Robotics in Afterschool Programs?

Need some help from the FIRST community on this one. I have been working in an after school program for 2 years and was always thinking of a way to bring some form of robotics to the students that I work with. Like many education programs, it is challenging and difficult to raise money to fund opportunities for students to learn about science and technology. However, through our state after school program coalition, I have an opportunity through a $2,000 grant to start a robotics initiative at my after school programs The problem is I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what robotic projects are out there that are aim at ages 5-13. Yes, I know about FIRST Lego League but I don’t it really know how it works through construction, programming, and developing robot.

My ideal goal is to……

  • start some kind of robotics program
  • 	open to students ages 5-13
  • 	something that will appeal to almost all of the students
  • 	simple for students to understand and have fun while my fellow co-workers will also be 			able to learn and help with teaching the students and also have fun as well

So this is when I ask the CD community for help. I need help in choosing a robotics program that within a $2,000 budget. Like with all grants, I need to submit a application with a two page essay with how the money will be spent and how it will improve the quality of the after school program, provide a time line for completion of this project and anticipated results, and a budget sheet with the breakdown of items purchased and their cost.

If anyone could provide any advice, it would be tremulously greatly appreciated.

VEX is aimed at highschoolers but can be very east with some help. VEX gives students designing, building, programming, and of course bugfixing, and it is in your budget range depending on how many kits you want to buy.

if you feel it is too expensive or out of your budget range

Lego NXTs have programming and building but design is a bit less emphasized on those.

good old lego robots don’t seem too complicated or fun but something like can always make them complicated

Our team has hosted and organized an FLL Regional for the last 2 seasons, and I have judged at the state level as well as served as Judge Advisor for both our tournaments. I personally judged Robot Design at the tournaments. These kids do as much and sometimes more design and testing with their LEGO robots than we do with our FRC bot. This goes for both base design, attachment design, fixtures, programming. You would be very surprised how much design and engineering can go into these tiny little robots. This past season I saw teams using torque and friction calculations in order to determine what type of wheels to use to limit the robot slip on the mat. You should look into it more and speak to coaches from your area before just blowing off FLL.

I agree. FLL has come a long ways since when I was in it over 5 years ago. The challenges now require a lot more work and planning to be successful.

I agree about FLL. I remember a team that won an innovation award for an elevator (NOT an arm). FTC might work for the older students, but with 5-year-olds, I wouldn’t touch it with a 5-foot pole. JFLL for those; FLL for most of the rest; FTC for the oldest.

I am not blowing off or disagreeing with what FLL does. I believe FLL is an amazing competition for the younger generation. It just personally, I don’t really understand what happens with FLL and how it works with construction and implementing programming wise. I try to attend and volunteer for local FLL competitions but since I was not affiliated with a team, I could not attend.

I just want to bring some form of robotics to my after school program and I would like to know of some ways that I could accomplish this.

another robotics program (i dont know if its in your area) is botball…
it is harder than FLL because all the programing is in C language
it may cost some money to start up, but it is a pretty good program

Botball is a great program - our team started with that last year. We competed against other middle and high school teams. I don’t know how expensive FLL is, but Botball wasn’t impossible to fund.

Sounds like, in your situation, Botball would be a good option. It’s not difficult to compete (you need some legos) and we had a lot of fun.

The programming, although it is C-based, is not that difficult - and that’s coming from me, and I’m not a programmer. :stuck_out_tongue:

FLL is a drag and drop type of programming. I’m not an engineer, computer programmer or even a business type person. I’m just a mom and if I can mentor a FLL team anyone can. The kids are able to figure it out mostly on their own…and they don’t let me touch the robot since I tend to break it.

I would use the money to get a 3 or 4 of the NXT kits…250-300 bucks. Get a field kit from this year, 75 bucks and break up into teams of 6 or so. Let the kids get used to the program and they can play against each other.

By the start of season next year your only cost will be registration and a few new field kits. (you can get by with one but two would be better).

You would have all summer to learn the program yourself.

Getting them to work on the research project is fun if you handle it right.

My team got a bid to state with very little help from me.

Good Luck

Hi, Freddy, FLL bots are pretty cool and the competition missions are good for younger kids because they make connections to help them understand the big picture- how can a robot help solve this problem–MARS, OCEAN SCIENCE, ENERGY… but they are not the only thing you can do… we did a one-day sumo-bot challenge with Mindstorms a few years ago that was a perfect intro with middle school kids.

The VEX has a new preprogrammed bot, Vexplorer, that looks pretty cool, but the program-able bots are better if you want to go farther or deeper into it with your kids. Somebody on our team (Bill Moore!) recently told me that the NXT was programmed to solve a rubiks cube… that seems pretty advanced to me.

When you write your application, Maybe give some thought to how the different ages will work differently…

Good luck!

You might give Robofest a try. It uses vex, and lego mindstorm. Every student gets a medal and its available from 5th grade all the way to college level. Go to check it out.


I was recently awarded a $2,000 grant from the NJ School-Age Care Coalition to develop and implement an after school robotics program for my students.

If you want to read more,

I will keep this thread up to date with the progression of this program.

Wish me luck!

Congratulations!!! Let us know if we can do anything to help…and keep us updated.

Freddy, if you need any inspiration, come by the Mount Olive High school during summer. We offer a robotics program for ages 5-13(i think 13) and it runs really well. Mr. McGowan (our founder and mentor) comes up with a very simple game for the kids and they come in for a few hours every day for I think 2 weeks. A lot of the kids who are 5-9 work with the old RCX systems and the older kids got to work with the NXT. My friend and I volunteered for the summer to help and we took some of the more advanced students and had them make work cells for a simple candy moving project.

I know you keep mentioning about how the building and design works, but truly, the kids only need an hour or two a day for a couple days to build and program. If you have any more questions feel freet o PM so I can give you some in depth suggestions. Ernie DiCicco is also a mentor for Team 11 and has been running the NJ FLL Championships for a couple years now at Mt. Olive HS and I’m sure he would be glad to help you out as well.

All the best-

All the suggestions are great, but if it doesn’t have to focus specifically on robotics, but science in general, Science Olympiad is an excellent competition. It consists of roughly 20 different events. These events cover many different fields of science (it’s been a while for me so I don’t know what the current ones are). Some involve building something and bringing it to the competition, and others you take a test at a competition to demonstrate your knowledge.
For more information about it, check out their website:

Oh truee, I totally forgot about that. I did SciOly in 8th grade and it was a lot of fun. We were allowed to choose between FLL in eighth grade and Science Olympiad. I think I have my finalist medal somewhere:rolleyes: