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Touch to Code
Lab 1 - Code and Read

Teacher Portal


Launch the Engage Section

ACTS is what the teacher will do and ASKS is how the teacher will facilitate.

  1. Hold up the 123 Robot, and have students share their ideas about how to communicate with the robot. 
  2. Have students share ideas, and you can point out that the 123 Robot doesn’t have anything on it that lets it hear your voice. 
  3. Pretend to press your nose or poke towards the circle, as you would to select an app on a phone, to indicate that we do not communicate with humans that way. 
  4. Show the 123 Robot’s buttons to the students, as the buttons will be used as the programming language for the 123 Robot in this Unit. You can pass the 123 Robot around the circle, hold it up so everyone can clearly see the buttons, or refer to the image of the 123 Robot in the Lab 1 Image Slideshow
  5. Have students share what they think or remember about what each button does on the 123 Robot. Remind them that the white arrow shows which way the 123 Robot is facing so that they can discern left and right accurately each time.
  1. We know our 123 Robots can do lots of things. How do we tell our 123 Robots what to do? Can we use the same kind of language that we use with each other? Why or why not? 
  2. Can our 123 Robots hear our voices? Let’s think about how we tell other devices what we want them to do. How can you communicate something on a smartphone, or a tablet? We have to communicate in a different way - what kinds of things do we do? (Like pressing buttons, or touching it) 
  3. Would we communicate with other people by poking or touching them like we do on a tablet? I hope not! But do people sometimes use different kinds of language? 
  4. Just like we communicate with different people in different ways, we can communicate with robots and devices in different ways, called programming languages. Let’s look at our 123 Robot, it has buttons on the top, that we can touch. How do you think we can use those buttons to communicate with our 123 Robot? 
  5. How do we know which buttons to press to make our 123 Robots do what we want them to do? Just like we learn words in our language, we have to learn the buttons in the 123 Robot’s programming language.


  1. InstructInstruct students that they are going to test each of the touch buttons on the 123 Robot to learn about how to communicate using its programming language. Each button will make the 123 Robot do a different behavior. We need to learn what behavior goes with each touch button, so we can do things with our 123 Robots.

    Image of the 123 Robot
    123 Robot

  2. DistributeDistribute a 123 Robot and a Tile to each group, and have students wake their 123 Robots. This can be done all together, or by each group as they receive their 123 Robot. View the following animation to show how to wake the 123 Robot.
    Video file
  3. FacilitateFacilitate testing and observing the behavior that corresponds to each touch button, by having the whole class test the same button at the same time.

     Follow the steps below to test and observe each touch button and behavior together:

    image of steps to test the touch buttons- identify the button, press the button, press start and observe, shake to erase
    Test the touch buttons

    • Identify the touch button you are going to test (Move, Left, Right, or Sound).
    • Press that button one time, and set the 123 Robot on the Tile, with the white arrow facing away from you.
    • Press the Start button, and observe the behavior of the 123 Robot.
    • Name the behavior that matches that touch button, and make sure that all students agree.
    • Shake the 123 Robot to erase the project, as shown in the animation below. Remind students to shake the 123 Robot until they hear the erase sound so that their 123 Robot is ready for the next project. Repeat this process for each button.
    Video file


    For younger students, you may want to do this activity as a teacher-led demonstration, where students are observing the 123 Robot behaviors, but the teacher is pressing the touch buttons on the robot. 

    You may want to create a Touch Button Chart on the board while you are testing, like the one shown here, so that students can refer back to it during the Lab

    image of an example of how to set up a touch button chart
    Example of a Touch Button Chart


  4. OfferOffer positive reinforcement for students who are following directions well, and taking turns to press the buttons on the 123 Robot.
A VEX 123 character

Teacher Troubleshooting

Facilitation Strategies

  • Create a Touch Button Chart - During Engage, capture students’ findings as they test each of the touch buttons. As a class, fill in the chart and hang it prominently for students to reference as they work through the activities in the Lab. See the the Lab 1 Image slideshow for an example of how to structure the chart.
  • Take Turns - Throughout the Lab, students should take turns in their groups. Suggestions for facilitating this include:
    • During Engage, students can take turns testing each of the touch buttons on the 123 Robot.
    • During Play, alternate who creates the touch project, and who places the 123 Robot on the Tile and presses the “Start” button.
  • Try a new starting position - If groups complete the challenge quickly, have them start on a different square and code the 123 Robot to drive to the first letter from the new starting position.
  • Pre-write words for younger students - You may want to pre-write the words on the Tiles, or assign words to students, so they can focus on the coding activity.
  • Divide words by letter sounds on the Tile - To have students practice with digraphs and diphthongs, write one sound per square, instead of one letter. Then students can still sound it out along with the 123 Robot’s behaviors, but can practice more complex decoding. For instance, write  “Ship” as “SH - I - P”, or the word “Rain” as “R - AI - N.”
  • Use printables as manipulative to support project planning - See the printable resources available in the VEX Library, and use them with students as they are planning and building their touch projects. You could cut out the touch button symbols and have students lay them out on their desk as they build their projects, or use the color-in sheet for students to color in the sequence of button presses in their projects.