All-In On VEXcode VR (for now…)

As we were looking around for best practice solutions to continue teaching Robotics in the virtual classroom, VEX announced its release of VEXcode VR. Besides being made free for public and educational use, the VEXcode VR platform was designed an equalizer, so that no matter what device you had access to, you could participate in online STEM learning.

This platform just ticked the box for all of the requirements that were suddenly coming fast and furious from schools, who wanted to resume enrichment programs through virtual classrooms:

  • Robotics Simulation
  • Block Programming + Python API
  • Simulated Sensors & Actuators
  • Algorithmic Challenges – not just hard-coding paths
  • Fun to play with!
  • Soft Hardware Requirements – Can be used on iPads or other Tablets
  • Enough depth for 1-2 months of lessons (wishful thinking)

There’s an Art Canvas for Turtle programming, a Maze for path creation and algorithmic way-finding, a Castle for a bumper/crasher game, an electromagnet-based game challenge for collecting game elements on the field. Grids that can be used to teach some abstract math concepts, like 2D coordinate systems. It’s quite robust, too!

Is it a perfect platform? No.

Some glaring issues:

  • No way to simulate line-following, one of the main use-cases of Robotics competitions in primary and secondary school level events.
  • No way for two robots to interact on a single game field concurrently
  • No way to design robots
  • No moving actuator (only an electromagnet)
  • A too-perfect simulation, physics engine-wise
  • Limited scope with no obvious pipeline of expansion

Still, we want to thank VEX and Innovation First for their generous and timely release.
If nothing else, it has piqued our interest again in creating our own Robotics Simulation toolkit (TBC).

Applied Learning Program – Online

So far 2020 has been a long parade of kicks in the butt! But, A Posteriori has always possessed a great sense of humor, and while we take the utmost precautions dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and strictly adhere to health regulations, we have also tried to keep up with programs and offerings for our students.

In April, we moved online to conduct part of our Applied Learning Program (ALP) in Electronics, Programming, Design Thinking on the theme of Active Living. We managed to get the students to take physical kits home, and setup virtual classrooms of Discord mainly. Discord, which is free, has a natural “room” or “team” setup, so we could work with multiple design groups separately and almost concurrently – similar to walking around the classroom from desk to desk. Except it wasn’t, and only a half or so of the secondary school students managed to participate actively for the online duration of the program.

I learned to respond to the name Cher.

Some of the results were really great:

Dance Dance Revolution console for disabled people – large 4-button distributed keyboard that can be used by any combination of whole or damaged limbs. The project used Makey Makey to receive game control input, and an Arduino with PulseSensor to monitor heart-rate.

Several jumping, push-up, or hand exercise virtual games with playful characters responding in real-time. Mostly utilizing ultrasonic and PIR sensors.

Game Design Sample

A Cyclotron using simple IR reflective sensor with Arduino.

Several lock boxes – for your smartphone – that unlock after some heartrate has been achieved for a specified duration.

We really had fun supporting this cohort of Sec-2 students.

BTW – not this one:
“cher” as in short for teacher: