Throughout a VEX EXP STEM Lab Unit, students will be working together to build, code, practice and iterate on their designs to complete activities and compete in challenges. To set students up for success in their groups, there are a number of strategies you can use to support student collaboration.
Note: The recommended group size for these STEM Lab Units is three students per Kit, so this article will use three students as a base for all strategies and supports. If your groups are larger than three students, you may want to identify more granular role responsibilities for your class.
Student Roles for Building
Assigning students specific responsibilities in a group building situation can help groups to function more efficiently, and be more engaged and invested in the building process. One way to do this is to break up the Build Instructions and assign students a sequence of steps to be responsible for.
Suggested roles for building the BaseBot:
- Student 1 – builds steps 1-4
- Student 2 – builds steps 5-8
- Student 3 – builds steps 9-14
Suggested roles for building the Clawbot:
- Student 1 – builds steps 1-6; and steps 21-29
- Student 2 – builds steps 7-13; and steps 30-36
- Student 3 – builds steps 14-20; and steps 37-41
When students are not actively building, they can be helping the other members of the group with reading build instructions, gathering pieces for subsequent steps, checking or charging the Battery, getting the Controller ready, documenting the build in their Engineering Notebook, etc. Remind students of these other tasks, and highlight groups that are working well together so that the whole class can see that the more engaged they are with their group, the better the results are for the group as a whole.
Strategies for Collaborative Coding
When building, iterating, and testing a project in VEXcode, students can continue to build their communication and collaboration skills within their group. You or your students may be familiar with Pair Programming, a collaborative coding process where a pair takes turns between building a project on the computer, while the other checks the project and offers feedback. (To learn more about Pair Programming see this Knowledge Base article.) With three students in a group, this paradigm can be expanded so that all members of the group have a voice and participate in the process of coding.
One way to do this is to assign roles and rotate students through those roles within the group throughout the course of a Lesson, so that everyone has an opportunity to engage with all of the tasks at hand. Roles could include:
- Planner – This student documents the plan for the project, and takes notes as students plan the project together. They share this plan with the Programmer while the project is actively being built.
- Programmer – This student builds the project in VEXcode, using the Planner’s documentation.
- Practitioner – This student checks the project as it is being built, and is responsible for downloading and testing the project with the robot. The Practitioner would then recommend iterations or edits to the project to the group, and the Planner would document those, to begin the process again.
You know your students best, so can tailor your role responsibilities and timing to best meet their needs. You may want students to stay in a role for an entire class period, or switch roles multiple times throughout the class. The goal is not the frequency of the rotation, but setting students up to be successful collaborators. If the roles are clearly defined so that each member of the group can see the part to play within the coding practice, then they will be better able to engage collaboratively.
You can also give students prompts to help them articulate their thinking while coding, either as part of a conversation with you, or in their groups. For examples of coding conversation prompts, see this Knowledge Base article.
Student Roles for Practice and Compete
During each Lesson, students will work through activities and challenges that involve iteration, documentation, building, and/or coding. Having a clear understanding of the flow of the iterative process is only part of the goal – students also need to be able to see how they fit, both individually, and as a group, into that process. Clearly defining roles within the group can be a useful way for students to maintain their focus during these activities, while also ensuring that all voices are heard within the group.
Roles for a building focused activity could include:
- Designer – This student documents the group’s design choice, so that the Builder has a plan to work from. The Designer can also gather materials to construct the design to prepare the Builder.
- Builder – This student constructs the group’s design from the Designer’s plans and adds it to the robot.
- Tester – This student tests the new build in the practice space to see if it is accomplishing the group’s goal. The tester would then share the results with the group, so they can decide how to proceed next.
Roles for a challenge based activity could include:
- Scout – This student observes other team’s matches, and looks at other groups’ builds and/or code to get ideas for strategy and designs to bring back to their team’s iterative process.
- Builder – This student constructs the group’s design or coding project based on the information from the Scout and the group’s experience in practice or a match.
- Documenter – This student organizes the group’s ideas for iterations, so that the information from the group’s experience and the Scout are recorded. The Documenter may take the lead on choosing an order to iterate on as well, and helps the Builder to construct accurate projects and designs based on the group’s decisions.
In competition based activities or Lessons, it may be that each member of the group has an individual role, or that multiple members share a role (like more than one person scouting other teams), to best accomplish the team’s goal.
As you set group work expectations with students, you may want to take time to model each of the roles that students may take on during that class. This way, you have a chance to answer questions, as well as establish a shared understanding of what each role does within the group. As the teacher, you may want to begin by assigning roles to students, and over time help guide students to choosing roles themselves. The goal is to keep all students engaged in the process, and build their capacity for effective communication and problem solving. Having a responsibility can help students find a place to focus their attention and energy within the competition, so that they are better prepared to communicate ideas effectively within their group.