Parallax Insider News

Parallax commits free robots and Professional Development for 500 educators in 2018!

  • By: Ken Gracey Published: 03 January, 2018 0 comments

ActivityBot 360 Robot

500 of these ActivityBot 360° robots will be given away at our Professional Developments

We're now accepting 500 motivated STEM educators to celebrate our 20th year in education! This year, Parallax committed to free Professional Development courses at 16 locations across the United States. Educators also receive a free ActivityBot 360° robot to take back to class!

Parallax robots

Middle school through college teachers with no prior experience may apply for our one-day Professional Development programs at You’ll bring your own computer, load the software, build and program your own ActivityBot 360° robot from the same Blockly or C tutorials your students will use. With our tutorials, assessment material and breadboarding skills, you'll walk away with enough confidence to lead your own class!

Back at school, put the robot kits in the student’s hands and let them learn by doing. Do you remember your favorite high school course? Did it have to do with shop or computers? Robotics provides exactly that same experience - maybe even the first chance to use a screwdriver, build circuits and program something physical (versus screen-only programming). Robotics is a launch pad for their future ambitions by effectively combining several engineering disciplines. It might be the course that influences their choice of future career.

To help your students succeed in engineering, we only need some time with you, the teacher! A day's worth of investment of your time will yield even bigger results with your students.

Teacher programming an ActivityBot

What is the Parallax robotics program about?

The Parallax program teaches students how to program microcontrollers to interface with sensors, motors and electronic circuits. They're actually programming the Propeller Multicore Microcontroller, an eight-core chip which supports true parallel processing. In contrast to single-threaded microcontrollers that can only do one thing at a time, the Propeller Multicore Microcontroller can manage motors, sensors and calculations simultaneously. It's a modern system on which to learn.

Students build several bridges while using our system: programming in Blockly first and then C, circuit building by pictures then with engineering schematics, and eventually designing and building projects of their own. An example "light following" circuit is shown below.

Circuit wiring schematic

Programming (and more specifically programmatic and computational thinking) is a key skill gained by students. Those who desire a deeper understanding of how things work can learn about real-time control, communication protocols, and analog/digital systems. Some students benefit most from the topical exposure, while others want to understand how the low-level code really works. Both learning outcomes are supported by our tutorials.

Because we also manufacture the microcontroller used in our robots, we are among the few educational robotics companies that offer a true direct pathway to industry since many of our customers build this chip into their products. As an example take a look at this robotic boat. It will soon ply the waters of Lake Tahoe under GPS navigation to collect data - and it's entirely programmed in BlocklyProp, the same programming environment and microcontroller we use in our Professional Development classes with the ActivityBot 360°!

Blockly Boat

If you prefer something a little more serious, the America's Cup New Zealand Emirates Yacht has about 30 Propeller Multicore Microcontrollers on board. Let's give our students real learning tools for industry.

America's Cup New Zealand Emirates Yacht

Stepping up the capability of the training tools means we'll also produce more industry-ready students. The knowledge required to succeed in STEM fields is much higher than it was a few years ago. Student capability has increased, our access to knowledge is higher and American schools are simply creating more engineers as the results of many of our collective efforts start to be realized. Educators can now challenge students with a deeper level of understanding - and the students are certainly ready for it. We also build our products right here in Rocklin, California. You can come tour our facility if you're ever visiting Northern California. Or, bring your whole class in for a Google Hangout tour (request via

Parallax Manufacturing

That’s what we’re all about and this is why we want you to join our Professional Development!

What are we not about?

Short term supply, obsolescence, learning dead-ends and STEM "learning toys". Parallax isn’t a venture capital funded company - we’ve grown the business organically (never had any venture capital funding) the old-fashioned way and we’re in it for the long term. Our efforts are centered around low-cost yet highly-capable hardware so that every student learns programming and electronics. This one robot per student model is the best alternative to robotic competition models where energy is focused on fundraising, travel and the separation of disciplines. Our students still compete with their own robots but usually in their classroom.

Why are we doing this anyway?

The decision to make the Professional Development courses entirely free was simple, really. We love what we do, we’ve got the right tools for learning - and the reward of enthusiastic teachers and students who work with our robots reaffirm our plan.

From a business perspective, educators respond to our Professional Development much more readily than trade shows and conferences, so we’re putting this investment where it counts and giving their students most direct benefit. The Parallax team is "all in" on this effort!

Parallax team

The results of our educational efforts are inspiring!

Many contributors to STEM education can share stories where students have been admitted to top engineering programs, graduating to working in industries such as aerospace, global security and entertainment. We've shuttled many students through internships at Parallax, written college letters of recommendation, and seen them succeed in careers we didn't know existed. We're making a positive impact.

It's the educators who've invested their time, reputation and funds into Parallax to share these tools with their students. When they speak, we listen carefully (especially if we've made a mistake). Like anybody, the positive feedback is real fuel for the Parallax team.

John Agostinelli of Eich School wrote:

I recently attended Parallax’s training course and was blown away. As an educator, I always appreciate how thoroughly vetted and documented Parallax material is. It makes it so effortless for an educator to pick up programming and robotics. My students have been introduced into the joy of robotics for over a decade using Parallax robotics kits. In my opinion they are second to none in their thoroughness of teaching: electronics, electricity, wiring, and programming. Their Blockly kits take this to a whole new level! Students can be up and running in no time.

Teacher testing ActivityBot robot

Parallax has trained over 5,000 teachers since we started. This past summer we experimented and loaded a free two-day Professional Development at New York University - Tandon School of Engineering with 50 educators. Take a look at the photos of the teachers who are now sharing robots with their classes throughout Brooklyn, New York and Queens! This is the class that spawned the concept of entirely free Professional Development in 2018, largely in thanks to friends Dr. Vikram Kapila and Ben Esner of NYU - Tandon School School of Engineering's Center for K-12 STEM Education who shared Parallax with their three-week teacher training programs funded by the National Science Foundation.

NY Educator's Course

Challenge yourself, learn something new and join us!

Together, let’s put the tools in the hands of every student and create tech-ready students around the country, especially at the inner-city schools. If you're a teacher, join us this year and be one of 500 educators who is on the cutting edge! We know you'll be enthused and leave the course with a challenge that'll keep your students in the classroom through breaks and lunch.

Start right here!

Should you want to speak with one of us to ask questions or tell us about your specific needs, just make a call to our Educator Hotline (916) 625-6801.

Ken Gracey, CEO - Parallax Inc. -

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