VEX IQ Challenge Unit

I have just finished writing a Unit of Work targeted at the Vex IQ Challenge. This is using the ACARA standards, but could easily be mapped to others. It also incorporates some Agile Project Management skills.

The PDF version is embedded below, but the onenote version can be accessed via the DigTech link above.


Robot Build Ideas for RoboCup Junior Australia Rescue Line Competition, using LEGO

RoboCup Junior Australia Rescue Line

RoboCup Junior Australia is a project-oriented educational initiative that supports local, regional and international robotic events for young students. The main difference between this and many other robot competitions is that it is platform independent and doesn’t require you to use a particular technology. That said, I will discuss the use of LEGO to build robots.
1.1.2 Primary Rescue Line: The robot must navigate to the scene, find and rescue the Victim by pushing or dragging (control) the Victim out of the chemical spill.
1.1.3 Secondary Rescue Line: The robot must navigate to the chemical spill and rescue the Victim by controlling the Victim and then maneuvering and leaving it outside of the chemical spill in its original orientation. The robot must then save itself by exiting the chemical spill via the ‘Spill Access Point’. [ Official RCJA Rescue Line Rules 2019 (KBTC).pdf]

The Problem Solving Process

This article is part of a series of articles around integrating Robocup into the curriculum. I will solve the problem of building a robot that satisfies the needs and requirements of the Robocup Junior Australia Rescue Line Competition, using part of the process below. If you want to link my solution to assessment, see Robotics Education Scope and Sequence 5-8


PID Controlled Line Follower Robot

In most of the Robotics competitions that I have been involved with, there is a need to follow a line. There are many strategies that can be employed to follow a line, but Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) control is the most effective. It can also be the most disengaging because of the mathematics involved.

Proportional Control

A good place to start is with Proportional Control and build from there. Proportional Control is where change made to the steering is proportional to, or directly related to, the robot’s distance from the edge of the line or the Target Path.

We control the Bot by changing the value for the turn ratio (or steering value) as the Bot moves forward in a forever loop. The turn ratio is calculated by:

turnRatio = error * gainValue

The error is the difference between where we want the robot to be and where it actually is: targetValue – colourSensor reading

The targetValue is the threshold value on the Target Path. We calculate this by averaging the reading from the colour sensor over white and the reading over the black. ie. targetValue = white reading + black reading / 2.

The gainValue determines how quickly the robot reacts to changes in the error value. A smaller gainValue makes the robot move slowly, which means that it might not react quickly enough for tight turns, but results in less side-to-side motion when the line is fairly straight. A larger gainValue means a quicker reaction but can cause jerkier motion. Selecting the gainValue is called tuning the controller and usually involves some trial and error.

This gives us:

turnRatio = (targetValue – colourSensor) * gainValue


on start
targetValue = 40
gainValue = 0.7

Repeat forever
turnRatio = (targetValue – colourSensor) * gainValue
Steer motors D + A TurnRatio speed 25

Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) controlled Bot

Now we are going to fine tune by incorporating the gain or response to Integral (total errors) and Derivative (rate of) errors. This Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) control.

The Proportional part measures the deviation from the Target Path (error), so our turnRatio = (target reflected light – actual reflected light) x Kp. The Kp is a fine tuning value or gain (or how quickly the robot reacts to changes in the Error value) that we can arrive at with some experimentation.

The Derivative is the rate of errors (deviations from the Target Path) and, therefore, we can predict what the next error will be and can fix the steering proactively : derivative = error – last error

The Integral is the sum of all the error (deviations from the Target Path) values and can help determine if the steering fixes from the derivative have helped keep the bot on the Target Path. Looking at the sum of all past errors can detect when steering corrections are not working: integral = integral + errors

Proportional [Error] = How bad is the situation now?
Integral = Have my past fixes helped fix things?
Derivative = How is the situation changing?
PID control = combine the error, integral and derivative values to decide how to steer the robot

The fine tuning is incorporated into the turn ratio (to steer back towards the line) and our aim is to reduce oscillation (rate of turning in and out) as much as possible and achieve smooth line following. The formula for the turn ratio value we need to repeat is:

turnRatio = (error * Kp) + (integral * Ki) + (derivative * Kd)


error = Target – Ns, where the Target is the threshold value (black+white/2) and Ns is the normalised [turn into a number between 0-100] colour sensor value
Kp = proportional gain or how quickly the robot reacts to changes in the Error value
integral = sum of the errors or sum of how far away from the Target we are
Ki = integral gain
derivative = rate of errors or rate of how far away from target we are
Kd = derivative gain or fine tuning value for derivative or error rate.

So, as the Bot moves along the edge of the line, it will steer into and out of the line based on the value of the turnRatio. Depending on how we adjust the Kp, Ki and Kd values, the steering should be minimal and produce less oscillation.


on start
Power = 50                           // default speed
Target = 58                         // threshold calculated by white level + black level /2 (theoretically centre of black line)
Kp = 0.7                             // proportional gain. The Gain value determines how quickly the robot reacts to changes in the Error value
Kd = 12                             // gain or response to errors for the derivative. Kd needs to be set at the beginning of the program to a value you arrive at
after some experimentation
Ki = 0.05                       // gain or response to errors for the integral
lastError = 0              //for tracking errors
integral = 0             // add up errors
Direction = -1           //are you left of the line or right of the line
min = 5                  // light reading on black
max = 65           // light reading on white
steer motors Power           // start moving Bot

Ns = 100 * (raw sensor reading – min) / (max – min)       // normalise light sensor reading for calculations
error = Target – Ns                                                                  // calculate error
derivative = error – lastError                                             // calculate the derivative or rate of errors
lastError = error                                                                 // update lastError

integral = 0.5 * integral + error                                // calculate the new integral or total errors
turnRatio = Direction * (Kp * Error + Kd * Derivative + Ki * Integral )            // make final turn ratio calculation
steer motors turnRatio Power                      // turn slightly according to calculations

Tuning Strategy 1
The most common way to tune your PID constants is trial and error. Disable everything but the proportional part (set the other constants to zero). Adjust just the proportional constant until robot follows the line well. Then, enable the integral and adjust until it provides good performance on a range of lines. Finally, enable the derivative and adjust until you are satisfied with the line following.

When enabling each segment, here are some good numbers to start with for the constants:

P: 1.0 adjust by ±0.5 initially and ±0.1 for fine tuning
I: 0.05 adjust by ±0.01 initial and ±0.005 for fine tuning
D: 1.0 adjust by ±0.5 initially and ±0.1 for fine tuning

Tuning Strategy 2
1. Set the Power to 50.
2. Start with Kd and Ki at 0 and Kp at 1. With our target at 60, this will make the Steering value change between -60 and 40 as the normalized sensor reading goes between 0 and 100.
3. Start by testing with just a straight line. A Kp of 1 is likely too large and will cause noticeable oscillation. Progressively reduce Kp by 0.05 until the robot follows a line with no side-to-side movement or only small movement to one side of the edge.
4. Progressively increase Ki by 0.01 until the robot follows the edge of a straight line with no oscillation. If the robot does not constantly drift to one side, you may be able to leave Ki at 0. Be aware that setting Ki too high (above 0.05) will cause the oscillations to grow bigger.
5. Now test the program on a line with curves. Increase the Power variable until the robot is unable to make the turn.
6. Progressively increase Kd by 1 until the robot can traverse the entire path.

The much longer version of this is here:



Coding the Parrot Mambo Drone

The Parrot Mambo drone can be coded via the Tynker App (iOS, Android) or via Swift Playground. If you choose Tynker, then you may need to enroll students (at cost) into their stunt pilot course. The Swift Playground, Parrot Education Accessory is free and will lead students through coding the drone rather than dragging and dropping blocks (as with Tynker).

I am currently working with a year 9 class, with an emphasis on developing algorithms, using the problem solving project sequence below.


  • team building
  • team work plan
  • design brief


  • how to fly the drone
  • how to program the drone
  • identify what you need to know and the skills you need to complete the project


  • what is an algorithm
  • what is pseudocode
  • algorithm design


  • code the drone
  • publish a project portfolio


  • evaluate process and production skills



Using drones is a good opportunity to develop student ‘soft skills’ such as collaboration and communication because it forces you to work in a larger space than a normal classroom and with limited resources. I normally work in a computer lab, but needed to move to the library where the class could access the space as well as ipads. Back in the normal classroom, students are able to work on other aspects of their project.

You could extend on this and have students design and build the obstacle course. I started off on this path but realised that I needed a proper makerspace, with art supplies, storage for student projects and project spaces for teams to ‘make a mess’. If you have a makerspace, maybe give my  Drone Game Board Unit Plan a go.

Creating and Communicating with ICT using Weebly

In the Australian Curriculum, students develop Information and Communication Technology (ICT) capability as they learn within and across disciplines.

ACARA ICT Capability
ACARA ICT Capability

Weebly for Education can be employed to compile information together in a different way or collaboratively constructing knowledge; as well as sharing and publishing the products of their learning. There a many other free online systems for creating websites, but this is the only one that is not blocked by our firewall. This is a great system to use for a Mulitimodal response from your students. Why not build this into your next assessment task.

Have your students view the quickstart guide below. From there, the system is very intuitive and will require very little input from you. Why not have them work in collaborative pairs and help each other on a shared artifact of learning.






Learning Design and Management for Queensland Schools

Linked below is a  guide to Learning Design and Management, using Queensland Standards Elaborations as a starting point for Proficiency Scales and then auditing the learning sequence against the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities.

I have previously created a guide that I would describe as a qualitative approach to Learning Design and Management, because Proficiency Scales, in the guide, are designed to move up a Cognitive Taxonomy. In this guide, Proficiency Scales are adapted from QCAA Standards Elaborations and I would describe this as roughly a quantitative approach.



On The Road to Project Based Learning (PBL)

Or Not Quite PBL

“The road” by Rick Turoczy is licensed under CC BY 2.0 ]

I’m hoping that this is a “before” snapshot and later I will be blogging the “after” version; because I’m just not there yet. Many people and organisations, such as BIE, Edutopia,  teachthought,  gettingsmart  and  globaldigitalcitizens,  stress the importance of inquiry and a student-centred approach to PBL. There has also been some work done on the difference between projects and project-based learning and continua to consider for effective PBL.


[Effective PBL Continua by Peter Skillen & Brenda Sherry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.]


In my context, the culture of Teaching and Learning is very traditionally based. Students learn and behave in an environment that is teacher-centred, fixed and synchronous. There is very little collaboration and so students don’t have the interpersonal skills they need for PBL. There is very little personalization or student agency and so students aren’t used to taking responsibility for their learning and don’t have the skills they need to manage their own learning; and so they tend to be passive rather than active learners. Lastly, there has not been an emphasis on 21st century fluencies or capabilities and so students do not possess the information fluencies they need for  inquiry.

I surmise, that because of this prevailing culture, I have not been successful in my attempts to have students collaborate in their learning and exercise voice and choice. Typically, the moment students realize that they are no longer tethered to their chairs in a seating plan, they have a tendency to become giddy and unfocused (I have even witnessed a student doing cartwheels). Then, even though I have provided all the resources and scaffolding they need, they do not engage unless I explicitly or directly teach them as passively as possible; such is their expectation.

Never the less, I intend on moving forward. So far, my PBL looks like this:








Locus of control

Before: At the moment, I initiate the project, but there is some latitude. For example, a project may revolve around developing a website for a client and the client has specific needs that need to be met, so the way students solve the problem will be different. However, students still rely on me to help them manage their projects, with me setting milestones and deadlines. Students are further supported with extensive scaffolding and templates.

After: I think that I need to work my way from setting the theme of the project to allowing students to engage their passions and interests. However, for students to operate successfully at the other end of the spectrum, they need to take responsibility for their learning. Therefore, I will work my way towards giving students more autonomy, in parallel with training them to personalize and manage their learning. The approaches that I could use, with increasing locus of control to students are:

1. Creating a theme or context – students solve a clearly defined problem with a restricted scope. In my teaching area this would be designing and developing a technical solution such as a website or an app.

2. Hack or remix something that already exists – in this situation students could choose something to modify but it may turn out to be too difficult, so I still need to restrict the domain. Students will still have some latitude within these restrictions though. This option works well in my area because students can follow some instructions to build something and then add their own modifications. For example, could learn how to control LEDs with an arduino microprocessor and then create their own wearable T-shirt with flashing logo.

3. Tie project to a competition or challenge – there are many competitions and challenges that are essentially PBL challenges. These often have scope for student choice.

4. Real world client – not only is there a level of choice here but also motivation. When students have a level of accountability to a real person its a whole new ball game.

5. Free play – this is where students can really engage with their passions and interests.

In their book, Hacking Project Based Learning: 10 Easy Steps to PBL and Inquiry in the Classroom, Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy encourage teachers to choose a track:

1. Set-Product Track (most restrictive) – produce a set product or thing.

2. Problem Track (medium restrictive) – initiate project by presenting students with a problem or scenario.

3. Open-Ended Track (least restrictive) – the only restrictions here are the learning goals.


Before: I do all the questioning here. My scaffolding mainly consists of design questions. Even when having students identify “other things to consider”, I use questions. My students aren’t delving very deeply into learning through self-directed inquiry.

After: I need to build up my students’ information fluency and inquiry skills. I can do that by embedding the ICT Capability of Investigating with ICT into my project scaffolds or explicitly train students in the process and then encourage them to use these skill to ask questions and develop their solutions. I can also take up the advice from Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy in their book Hacking Project Based Learning: 10 Easy Steps to PBL and Inquiry in the Classroom and qft pg 24 and class-wide umbrella questions pg 68


Before: This rarely happens explicitly; often students will collaborate in a spontaneous way but this is not part of the process. The main reason for this is summative assessment, where it is difficult to determine which evidence has been generated by individual students. For this reason, on projects that are team-based, different aspects are nominated as team or individual.

After: A key hurdle seems to be summative assessment. In Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age (2nd Edition) by Suzie Boss & Jane Krauss, it is suggested that a final performance task that requires students to apply what they have learned is one approach that can be taken. However, my projects lead students through an engineering cycle, resulting in a final product. Therefore, I will keep with team and/or individual milestone tasks but may add an ongoing reflective learning task, such as a development log.

The other hurdle is collaboration skills, or the lack of. Again, Hacking Project Based Learning: 10 Easy Steps to PBL and Inquiry in the Classroom pg 29 has some good guidance on how to teach these skills.


Before: Again, I scaffold very heavily here and provide the content.

After: Definitely need to build up my students’ information fluency and inquiry skills. I can do that by embedding the ICT Capability of Investigating with ICT into my project scaffolds or explicitly train students in the process and then encourage them to use these skill to ask questions and find their own content links.


Before: Not doing too badly here as students do a fair amount of analysis, evaluation, design and creation. I do use blogs and wikis so that students can share and evaluate each others’ work.

After: This could be made a bit more visible by assessing the level of sharing and evaluating between students.


Before: The majority of my projects do have a real world context and students are forced to seek out a client for some.

After: I need to include a client in all projects and source a real-world mentor for either groups of the whole class.





Explicit Instruction and Not Quite Blended (NQB) Classrooms on the Road to BYOD

“BYOD” by AJ LEON is licensed under CC BY 2.0


BYOD So Far….

Federal Government funding in Australia for a 1:1 ratio of devices to students is long gone. This has left most school in the situation of having something like a 1:5 ratio, of school owned devices,  that they can barely sustain. There has been an attempt, by most schools, to address the shortfall with a Bring your Own Device (BYOD) program. This has largely been unsuccessful; a strawpoll of schools around the region suggests a less than 10% uptake. Even in places where students have multiple devices at home, they rarely bring them to school. When asked why they generally respond, “My teacher doesn’t do anything with it.”

Why is it so?

The main problem is the focus on the device and the technology, rather than the pedagogy. As articulated by Michael Fullan, “Pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator.” So, when we were given devices but no training or the development of a culture of growth and reforms to our practice, we did the only thing we knew and substituted this tool for something we were already doing. Internet connected devices certainly are useful for ‘research’ or other online content. For a variety of reasons we did not engaged in practices that let us see how transformational technology can be in the process of learning. Meanwhile, students and their parents have not developed a value for technology as an indispensable device for learning.



Where to now?

The only way devices are going to make it through your classroom door is by students bringing them. Parents will not provide devices and students will not bring them until they both value them for learning. Therefore, we need to make the first moves and begin to demonstrate the value that technology adds to learning. We can do that by shifting to Blended Learning.

What Will the Shift to Blended Learning Look Like

Blended Learning is a mix of face-to-face and online learning, along a learning path or sequence. Blended Learning is also Personalized, so students have an element of agency over the pace, place and path their learning takes. Before we leap straight into this and because we don’t have devices, we need to start with ‘Not Quite Blended’. This will then be the foundation we need to journey all the way to learning opportunities afforded be Inquiry-Based Learning such as Project-Based Learning.

Not Quite Blended

The major difference with this approach is that it does not have all the systems and processes you need to Personalize learning. This is more of an explicit approach rather than an implicit one, so students are more likely to be consumers of information rather than producers of knew knowledge; you might post content online and guide students through it rather than guide students through an inquiry process. At this stage, technology is used to enhance pedagogy with Substitution and Augmentation (SAMR Model), with some creep into transformation. This may be in the form of starting to use the 4C’s of 21st Century Learning:

  • Communicate – students might blog their learning and receive feedback
  • Collaborate – students may develop shared artifacts of learning with wikis, blogs or other web 2.o technologies such as Padlet.
  • Critical Thinking – this might be made more visible in combination with Communicate and Collaborate strategies
  • Creativity – instead of the product of learning presented as text, other media may be used in creative ways. Students may also synthesize knew knowledge via inquiry learning.

How can I do This with Explicit Instruction?

If you have read this far, then you already know that it’s all about the Pedagogy! The Pedagogical Framework we use is Explicit Instruction (Archer & Hughes 2011) overlayed with the Gradual Release of Responsibility:

Explicit Instruction

Warm-up ideas

  • Play a youtube video as students enter
  • Pose a ‘Socratic’ question
  • Give a short pre-test using Kahoot
  • Have students play a game
  • Project an image at the start of a lesson
  • Demonstrate a physical behaviour such as a chemical reaction and ask ‘why is it so?’
  • Read an interesting quote from a famous person.
  • Analyse a tag cloud of the topic for high frequency words
  • Hold a Seed Discussion online
  • Have students post an Anticipation Guide


  • Always have these accessible 24/7 in your Virtual Classroom (Blackboard for senior, Edmodo for Junior).
  • Have students track their learning, either on paper or online.
  • Try using a KWL, either on paper or preferably online (have students post this in their online journals).

I Do ideas

  • Create a Virtual Classroom (Blackboard for senior, Edmodo for Junior)to curate ALL content
  • Reduce cognitive load for students by sourcing multi-modal content
  • Let the content do the “chalk and talk” for you. ie: there is probably a youtube or teacher tube clip out there that will say it better and students can watch it several times until they get it.
  • If you do “chalk and talk”, record it and upload it to provide a bank for review/revision. You can then build on this to ‘flip’ your classroom. ie: have students review the material for homework and then go straight into the ‘we do’ step.
  • There are a heap of online learning activities , around content and input experiences, that you can access.
  • Why not explain a concept with someone else’s animation.
  • Chunk‘ content into digestible bites
  • Identify critical input experiences
  • Manage response rates with Kahoot, Padlet and a host of other technologies.

WE DO ideas

YOU DO ideas



1. Develop a Growth Mindset

2. Deliberate Practice

In Hattie’s “Teachers Make a Difference What is the research evidence?”, Teachers accounted for 30% of the variance.

The research also tells us that Teacher reflective practice leads to increased pedagogical skill which results in increased student achievement.

Deliberate Practice is about refinement of practice over time:

3. Couple Deliberate Practice with a Collaborative PLC Cycle, for you and your colleagues:










Gamify Your Classroom With Kahoot and Other Online Formative Assessment & Response Systems

Why Kahoot?

Kahoot is great for:

  • Introducing new topics
  • Review, Revice & Reinforce
  • Formative Assessment and Checks for Understanding
  • Surveying to initiate discussion and debate

Kahoot is available on desktops and all mobile devices as an app, so one way or another, students have options for access to a device that they can use (BYOD). This is a great stepping stone to inspire students and parents to value technology for learning. Actually, students love this, so don’t be surprised if devices flow into your classroom if you regularly use this as part of your exit routine.

How it Works

Powerful Ways to Use Kahoot

Alternative Online Systems