Facilitating an IQ STEM Lab Competition

Classroom competitions bring the excitement of VEX IQ Robotics Challenge to your learning environment, enabling teachers to leverage the creativity and motivation of the competition setting in their classrooms. There are a number of facilitation strategies that you can use to help ensure your competitions are successful, and that you and your students are making the most of this learning experience.

This article will cover:


Creating balanced alliances

Some competitions will take place in alliances, where multiple teams will be joined together for competition. The teacher should assign the alliances prior to the competition class. When assigning alliance partnerships, consider the strengths and weaknesses of your students, to be sure that alliances are balanced across the classroom. Pairing more experienced teams with less experienced teams gives students a chance to learn from and with one another in an authentic way.

When students enter the classroom, they should start in their alliance grouping, and participate in the entire competition, from game strategy and robot preparation to practice to the match itself, in their alliance. To help facilitate this, make sure that students have easy access to their alliance assignments by posting the listing somewhere visible in the classroom, or printing it and distributing it to students.


Modeling the flow of competition

To ensure that you and your students have shared expectations for the flow of the competition, follow these steps to show students how the competition will take place in your setting:

  • Identify alliances and/or match schedule and where these are posted in the classroom
  • Identify the number of matches each team will participate in
  • Identify the areas of the room and how students will move between them
  • Demonstrate how you will keep score
  • Demonstrate how you will keep time – show students what to look or listen for at the start or end of the match
  • Model how to setup the robots to start the competition
  • Instruct students about what they should be doing when their team is not actively competing
  • Instruct students on what the tie breaker for a match will be (coin toss, overtime, etc.)
  • Answer any questions that students have about the competition organization

Tips and tricks for facilitating a competition

There are many ways that you can set up and organize your classroom competitions, and you will find what works best for you and your students over time. The following are some considerations that can support you and your students to have a successful classroom competition.

  • To help students stay focused and engaged during the Competition Lesson, you may want to have them assign roles within their alliances. Roles could include:
    • Driver - Drive the robots in the competition
    • Designer - Sketch out and explain the design of the additions to the BaseBot
    • Builder - Construct the addition from the design, and add it to the BaseBot
    • Documenter - Take the lead on documenting game strategy and design choices
  • Allow ample time for practice and development of game strategy. Especially for students who are new to the competition setting, working in an alliance and thinking deeply about game strategy will take time and practice. To ensure that your students get the most out of the classroom competition experience, allow extra time for the Learn and Practice section of the Competition Lesson. You may want to introduce the idea of game strategy as a whole class discussion, so that students can have the same entry point to work from before they break into their teams or alliances.
  • Make sure students know what to do between matches.To help students stay engaged when they are not actively competing, have them continue their deliberate practice. If they need additional support, instruct them to do one of the following activities:
    • Team or Alliance Meeting - meet with their team or alliance to discuss and document any game strategy or BaseBot iterations.
    • Practice - Practice driver skills for the next round of the competition.
    • Scouting - Watch other alliances as they compete to learn about their strategy for driving or adapting their build, to apply to your alliance’s work.
  • Schedule balanced matches. When considering your match schedule, consider students’ experience and skill levels with the particular game at hand, and plan matches so that no one team or alliance is markedly stronger or weaker than the others. When scheduling matches, make sure that different alliances are competing against one another in each round of the competition.
  • Remind students to document their build additions and game strategy in their Engineering Notebook. If students are struggling with drawing their designs, you can have them take and print a photo of the built addition to add to their Notebook.