Facilitating an EXP STEM Lab Competition

Classroom competitions bring the excitement of VEX Robotics Competitions 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.

Creating balanced teams

Some competitions will take place in teams, where multiple groups will be joined together for competition. The teacher should assign the teams prior to the competition class. When assigning team partnerships, consider the strengths and weaknesses of your students, to be sure that teams are balanced across the classroom. Pairing more experienced groups with less experienced groups 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 team grouping, and participate in the entire competition, from game strategy and robot preparation to practice to the match itself, in their team. To help facilitate this, make sure that students have easy access to their team 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 teams and/or match schedule and where these are posted in the classroom
  • Identify the number of matches each group 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 teams. 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 team 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.
  • 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:
    • Group or Team Meeting - meet with their group or team to discuss and document any game strategy or BaseBot iterations.
    • Practice - Practice driver skills for the next round of the competition.
    • Scouting - Watch other teams as they compete to learn about their strategy for driving or adapting their build, to apply to your team'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 is markedly stronger or weaker than the others. When scheduling matches, make sure that different teams 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.

Create a Leaderboard

Post or project the match schedule on the whiteboard in your classroom, and give space for students to write in point totals and to identify the winner of each match. This visible record of matches can provide motivation for students as they continue to iterate, as well as give them an idea of other teams to scout as they develop game strategies.

You can also use the VEX EXP Leaderboard in your classroom. For more information about the VEX EXP Leaderboard and how to use it, view this article.


For more information, help, and tips, check out the many resources at VEX Professional Development Plus

Last Updated: