In seeking to prepare students for lives and careers in the 21st Century, a focus on STEM and Computer Science (CS) has emerged, and is gaining attention.1 As such, more and more teachers are being asked to incorporate STEM and CS into their classrooms, or to become full time STEM teachers. However, many of these teachers do not have a STEM or CS background to draw from, so are looking for more varied and ongoing professional development opportunities to support their teaching practice.2 The traditional professional development model of in-person, one-off training sessions has value, but comes with many drawbacks. Finding the time to attend, the budget to pay for the training, possible travel, substitute teachers, and the inherent limitations that come with a group session, like scope and a lack of differentiation and personalization, can make the in-person model less effective for teachers. Additionally, a one-time session does not necessarily support teachers when they need professional development or support, and may not offer the content that they find relevant at the time of the PD. VEX Professional Development Plus (PD+) was developed to combat these ongoing issues with traditional teacher PD.
What is PD+?
PD+ is a multifaceted online professional learning platform that offers all teachers opportunities for professional growth and learning through continual and sustained training, mentoring, and support.
The beauty of PD+ is that it is not just one thing, or a one-off experience – it is a combination of resources that you can curate for yourself, to help you on your STEM teaching journey.
What’s in a PD+ Training Course?
The Training Courses within VEX Professional Development Plus (PD+) offer a unique solution to the challenges of traditional teacher PD, by giving teachers self-paced, hands-on, engaging training, with the opportunity for personalized learning and sustained support through the PD+ platform.
Each Training Course is focused on a specific topic or VEX platform, to give targeted course content for all VEX platforms and STEM pedagogy. The courses consist of themed Chapters broken up into smaller Lessons. These video-based Lessons weave together concept knowledge, teacher modeling, and hands-on learning with your own VEX Robotics materials, so that you can have the experience of participating in the STEM Lab lessons that you will end up teaching to your own students. For instance, in the Building with VEX GO Training Course, teachers learn about following build instructions, then actually follow along with a VEX Expert to construct various builds with their VEX GO Kit. They then use these builds in a classroom investigation together, modeled by the Expert in the video, to see how the builds connect to curricular concepts.
The videos are intentionally designed to move slowly, and to build on one another, so that you can move through the course at a pace that best suits your needs and skill level. Training Courses designed for ‘Getting Started’ begin with things like charging a Battery and updating firmware, then progress to building and/or coding activities. For those who desire extra support and tips, the videos within the Get Started Training Courses offer high levels of scaffolding at the start, gradually removing it as the course progresses. Those who are more comfortable can move through the content at a faster pace, using the links to articles, videos, or build instructions included in each Lesson to guide or extend their learning.
Lessons contain formative assessment questions, and links to the PD+ Community so you can ask questions about the content and engage with other VEX Educators and the Experts teaching the course for individualized learning and interactions. The variety, breadth, and depth of the Training Courses allows teachers to pursue interest-driven professional learning, a hallmark of effective teacher PD.3
PD+ Training Courses Exemplify Effective Professional Development
PD+ Training Courses, in tandem with the larger PD+ environment, satisfy the hallmarks of successful PD, providing a significant advantage over traditional, stand-alone, in-person professional development sessions.
Effective professional development should be content focused, incorporate active learning, support collaboration, model effective practice, provide coaching and expert support, offer opportunities for feedback and reflection, and be of sustained duration.4
Courses guide you through the concepts and skills needed to build, code, and teach STEM and CS with VEX Robotics confidently.
Incorporates active learning
Use your Kit to create VEX builds and carry out classroom investigations and activities as you participate in the same hands-on lessons you will be teaching.
Ask questions and get feedback from others in the PD+ Community to collaborate with educators and VEX Experts around the world. Extend your learning by joining in PD+ Live classes for in-person virtual collaborative learning.
Uses modeling of effective practice
Successful teaching and learning strategies are modeled in each video, showing how to effectively teach lessons from VEX STEM Labs and Activities. Practical classroom tips for implementing each lesson are included, as well as discussion prompts you can use to spark engaging classroom dialogue around STEM topics.
Provides coaching and expert support
The VEX Experts teaching the course are experienced educators, and bring years of classroom teaching experience to each Lesson within the course. Interact directly with the Experts via PD+, for individualized training and support on your STEM teaching journey.
Offers opportunities for feedback and reflection
Check your understanding with formative assessment questions in each Lesson. Reflect on what you’ve learned as you implement course activities with your students.
Is of sustained duration
PD+ provides a wealth of opportunities for ongoing, timely, personalized professional development, and is always growing. Watch additional videos, view STEM Labs, read articles, contribute to PD+ Community threads, and attend the annual VEX Robotics Educators Conference to continue pursuing your STEM teaching goals.
Leverage Your Experience as a Learner in Your Teaching Practice
Training Courses allow educators to experience STEM Labs Lessons and Activities just as their students will in the classroom, providing insight into the student learning experience, promoting the practice of teachers learning alongside their students.
“Many of the qualities of a constructivist learning environment are either aligned or the same as the qualities of effective online professional development. Examples of these qualities include collaboration and interactivity which are important for being able to build knowledge by manipulating learning materials and resources.”
- Joshua C. Elliot, The Evolution from Traditional to Online Professional Development: A Review
Courses are not simply product training, but set you up for success by integrating hands-on learning experiences with best practices for teaching and learning. The self-paced nature also gives the freedom and flexibility to spend more or less time in a Chapter as you see fit, aligning personal classroom needs and professional development interests with course content.
“ “I find myself logging into PD+ daily as a way to connect, learn and share ideas about robotics in a way that no other platform has available for teachers. I even got to meet all of my new PD+ colleagues in person at the conference! During my planning time, I watch videos that are geared to developing my understanding of robotics. VEX PD+ is the best tool, and one I use on a daily basis to strengthen my STEM teaching skills.”
– Anna V. Blake, K-5 Elementary Technology Integrator
The responsive nature of PD+ and the comprehensive layers of support it provides makes PD+ Training Courses unique in their ability to offer educators the elements of highly effective professional development in a sustainable way. Virtual professional development, like PD+ Training Courses, enables flexible sustained learning with follow-up, which can be more effective than a single workshop.6 Rather than attending yet another in-person session that is too soon forgotten, engage with PD+ to develop STEM teaching expertise, raise students' achievement, and take control of your professional learning journey.
Features of a Training Course
Hands-on learning with your VEX materials
Training Courses allow you to use your own VEX Kits and materials to complete the activities within each Lesson. Like an in-person workshop, you will be able to build, code, and test your builds and projects to complete a variety of explorations.
Getting Started courses are a great place to start if you are new to a VEX platform, and will walk you through a step-by-step process to get you ready to teach with VEX.
Video-based lessons let you learn at your own pace
Each Lesson in a Training Course centers on an instructor-led video, that will walk you through what you need to know to complete the Lesson activity. The on-demand nature of Training Course content means that you can watch videos, and complete Lesson activities anywhere, at any time, based on your own schedule and needs.
Beside the video, Lesson descriptions offer a chapter and lesson level overview so you know what you will be learning about, as well as what materials you will need to complete the Lesson activity. Any resources that are mentioned in the video, or that can be used to extend your learning are also linked on the Lesson page.
Formative assessment helps you monitor your progress
Lessons also have built-in formative assessment, like Check Your Understanding questions or reflection prompts, so that you have a tool to monitor your own progress and learning. For instance, if an answer is unclear to you, you can go back and rewatch part of the video or use the additional resources linked on the page to learn more, before moving on to the next Lesson.
Additional resources help you extend your professional learning
Make the most of your professional learning by using the Training Courses in conjunction with other PD+ and VEX resources. Within Lessons, PD+ videos, articles, or educational resources will be linked so you have easy access to next steps, and the tools that can help you take your learning further.
Additionally, each Training Course has an associated PD+ Community thread, enabling you to directly interact with other course participants and the PD+ experts leading the course at any time to ask questions, comment on course content, or spark a discussion based on your learning.
Participating in a PD+ Training Course
To begin a PD+ Training Course, select the course tile you wish to participate in. There is no 'enrollment' necessary, you can begin a course at any time by opening Chapter 1 Lesson 1 and completing the Lesson. You can then proceed to complete the course at your own pace. This flexibility enables you to engage with training when it is right for you, on your own schedule.
Your progress within a Training Course will be saved, so that you can pick it back up at any time as best meets your needs. From the course main page, you can see an overview of Chapter topics and the Lessons contained within each. It is recommended to move through Lessons sequentially, as each Chapter will build on what was learned previously.