Implementing VEXcode VR Competitions in the Classroom

Why Hold Competitions in Your Classroom?

stopwatch

VEXcode VR Competitions Promote Connection - Teaching and learning with VEXcode VR can be a highly individualized learning environment. Adding the element of competition promotes conversation and shared learning, and keeps students engaged and connected to each other, as well as to the course materials. This is especially advantageous in unique learning environments, like the ones many of us are facing in COVID classrooms. Students in distance learning environments often miss the connections they had to other students, and competitions can offer a way to give that back, in a fun and exciting way.

VEXcode VR Competitions Promote Iteration - Through competition participation, students are encouraged to iterate and experiment with their code, to try new things, and to actively learn from others. The goal is not simply accomplishing the task, but creating a solution that works better, faster, or more efficiently than other possible solutions. This striving to create “better” code, is directly connected to what professional coders do every day.

VEXcode VR Competitions Promote Engagement - The VEXcode VR Activities offer concrete lessons and scaffolding opportunities, yet many students may see them as a sort of “checklist,” where the goal is simply to get the assignment finished. VEXcode VR Competitions can break that thought process, and encourage students to engage for longer periods of time around the same concepts. Checking a teacher created class leaderboard, and seeing that one’s last entry time was beaten, can inspire a student to revisit and rework the code in order to move back up in the standings. Rather than finishing the activity and putting it away, students are now eager to review their thought processes, coding skills, and strategy; continuing to engage with the same coding concepts over time, and thus learning more deeply.


How to Use VEXcode VR Competitions in Your Classroom

VEXcode VR Competitions are Timed Trials.
Students utilize the Playground Timer feature on the Playground window to measure the amount of time it takes the VR Robot to complete the task at hand. The goal is to have the shortest time, or to create the most efficient code. Teacher created class leaderboards are especially useful in keeping track of students’ submissions, and keeping students’ engaged with one another as they work.

Students submit screenshots of their completed Playground, with the Playground Timer and code visible.
Teachers can choose to have students submit their results just to the teacher, who will then put them in order; or to have students directly share them with the class through digital means, like a Google doc.

Example of a submission with completed Playground, code and Playground Timer visible:

Example of submission

The following VEXcode VR Activities include Competition sections:

Tips for Student Submissions:

  • Put the pen down so that the path of the VR Robot is clearly visible. This makes it easier to see where the VR Robot has moved, and how it accomplished the task. As the VR Robot goes over the same path, the pen will make the line bolder.
  • Use the [Stop project] block at the end of the project to stop the Playground Timer, and ensure students submit the most accurate run time for the challenge.

Using stop project block

  • Limit the number of student submissions in the competition to encourage students to be thoughtful about how they are creating their code. Enabling more than one entry gives incentive to iterate, but having unlimited options may get overwhelming. Limiting the students to no more than three in a class period, or five in a day, will help keep things engaging and manageable.
  • Offer additional “prizes” for categories like most efficient code, or best use of an algorithm. 

Display the Leaderboard throughout the Competition

  • Digital Leaderboard - Use a Google doc or shared sheet, or your digital classroom setting to create a place where everyone can see progress. Teachers can choose to have students place their submission screenshots directly into the leaderboard platform they have created, or have students submit to the teachers, who will update their leaderboards regularly, and share it with students.
    • Share the Code - This method also allows teachers to highlight particular sections of student code, and for students to see and learn from the coding skills of others.
  • Analog Leaderboard - If you are in a classroom, you can simply keep track of student progress on the board. Students should share their completed screenshots with you before changing the board, and either teachers or students can update the board with names and times.

How to Organize the Competition in the Classroom

Students can compete against each other in pairs, groups or the entire class.

For Competitions in the Classroom at the Same Time

  • Announce the competition either before class, or the day of, to give it a sense of excitement.
  • Post the “Rules” for your classroom for everyone - include the number of submissions each student or team is allowed, the goal of the competition, the activity or Playground in use, and the method of submission.
  • Update the teacher created leaderboard throughout the competition time frame.
  • You may want to add that everyone must have one submission before a revision is eligible to be added. This will enable students who work at different levels to have an equal opportunity to enter.
  • For a visible “Head to Head” Competition, project side by side windows and run the projects at the same time, for the class to watch to see who wins in real time.
  • Offer incentives for the “winners” - this can be a tangible “prize,” or something such as getting to choose the next competition’s playground, or an “extra time” card to use in the next competition, etc. Use what you know about your students to set incentives that match their personalities and interests.

For Competitions in an Asynchronous Learning Environment

  • Announce the competition either before class, or the day of, to give it a sense of excitement.
  • Set a longer time frame, to enable participation over time, like one school day.
  • Post the “Rules” for your classroom for everyone - include the number of submissions each student or team is allowed, the goal of the competition, the activity or Playground in use, and the method of submission.
  • Update the teacher created leaderboard throughout the competition time frame. Send out alerts to changes, or when updates have been added, to keep students engaged.
  • You may want to add that everyone must have one submission before a revision is eligible to be added. This will enable students who work at different levels to have an equal opportunity to enter.
  • Offer incentives for the “winners” - Since tangible “prizes” aren’t necessarily an option, competitive advantages like choosing the next competition’s playground, or an “extra time” card to use in the next competition may work well. Use what you know about your students to set incentives that match their personalities and interests.

Wrap Up Competitions with Coding Conversations

  • In any learning environment, students can respond to a few discussion prompts to wrap up the competition class. Questions like these can offer an opportunity for students to articulate their thinking and learn from others.
    • How did the winners do so well? What was different about their code?
    • What did you change in your iterations of the project? How did those changes help or hurt your time?
    • What new coding strategies did you learn in this competition?
    • What did you learn from seeing someone else’s code? How did that influence your thinking?

A Note About Using the Dynamic Playgrounds and the Art Canvas for Competitions

The changing nature of the Dynamic Playgrounds makes a straightforward timed trial not as effective or fair for a competition. This does not mean that they can’t be used, just that they would need different parameters for measuring success. This gives teachers and students an opportunity to be creative, and to think about others’ code in new ways.

  • You could have your class write criteria for “Best Code,” and then vote on all of the submissions, and explain their thinking. Stipulate that students have to vote for an entry that was not their own.
  • Superlative Competitions, where students have to nominate a code for categories like “Most Creative,” “Most efficient,” “Best use of a Loop,” etc. can also offer incentives to think outside the box while coding, and encourage creativity and innovation.

The open ended nature of the Art Canvas makes it difficult to measure a timed trial of a free art activity, like writing your name, fairly. But if all students have the same goal - “Write the word ROBOT” - then timed trials are possible. This can also give students a voice in what the goal of the competition is, which encourages student buy in and engagement.