Suggestions for Middle school Robotics/Arduino fall enrichment program

Hey CD,

A few members of my team are looking to create an afterschool enrichment curriculum that’ll run a two-hour program each week for 8 weeks during the fall for our local middle school. We really want to teach electronics fundamentals/robotics. On somewhat of a low budget (~$500), we’re thinking of using Elegoo Arduino kits and running through electronic theory and building cool projects. Though since these are middle school kids, I don’t know if a lot of the electronics fundamentals would go over their heads (I mean if these kids are choosing to be there, they’ll probably be motivated enough to learn?).

We don’t have a lot of experience with creating a short once-a-week curriculum as most of which I’ve been reading here are talking about FLL/FTC programs, which run a lot more frequently. We’d appreciate any type of advice or program examples that teams run.

Thanks for reading!


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You should look at WPI’s XRP platform too. Lots of free online curriculum provided. The kits are discounted for educational programs and FIRST teams and I think are shipping sometime in August.

If you are worried about JUST teaching the fundamentals, snap circuits would likely be a solid choice. That’s what my team is going to be using during our summer outreach program for middle school aged kids. They’re really easy to use and pretty hard to shock yourself or accidentally blow a resistor on. Most kits come with a handbook of projects going from simple to complex.


I had great results teaching full classes for an entire semester entirely remotely using Maqueen robots from DFRobot, and the SparkFun micro:bit inventor’s kit.

We used eneloop rechargable batteries and chargers.

The micro:bit is really great and has numerous advantages over the Arduino platform, especially for the middle school level. I highly recommend it. The Maqueen is also an excellent little robot. If you end up going this route, I have some projects and stuff I can share.

Why not go straight to a KoP frame with a single CIM on each gearbox and the throttle dialed down? I can assure you, middle schoolers can handle it and it gives them a much better grounding for FRC.

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To tack on to TJ’s comment, a lot of it depends on goals.

Arduino & its ecosystem are fairly solid from a low-barrier-of-entry perspective. They get students hands on with the actual electronics and software together, in a way that’s relatively foolproof, and well documented.

However, FIRST Programs generally use other ecosystems. This adds an extra difficulty jump for someone who’s familiar with one environment to jump to another. The jump can be taught, especially by someone who is familiar with both. Generally, they’ll want to build a “decoder ring” of “X in arduino means Y in FRC”.

So, not a bad idea in general. It might be a sub-optimal idea if the goal is to directly feed students into a FIRST program, but still not a bad one.

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They’ll be fine on facts and theory level. “Kids these days” are smart as heck, its just hard to keep them task focused (social skills development issue - post pandemic, the fact of being around other students is too exciting to maintain task focus.)

DC Power, switches, lights, motors - all that stuff is pretty straightforward. You could even get into PWM “switching to emulate analog percentage” concepts with that age group and a decent prebuilt curriculum. Build up to a RGB LED display of some kind. “look now you know how a computer monitor works!”

A linefollower breadboard robot is definitely middle school level as well, just might not have time for every student to finish. Two motors, three sensor inputs, drive the motor with logic based on the sensor inputs… whole class prob won’t finish. Don’t set an expectation of waiting for peers and advancing as a class if you try to do this. I like written curriculum packets for this reason - start with safety announcements, then let subteams of ~3-4 loose with written curriculum, wander around and help as needed.

Manipulating AC circuits, capacitance and inductance, are a lot trickier to teach and comprehend, since that’s waveforms with a fundamental time component.


I agree. The theory may go over their heads a little at first, but they’ll pick up on it after a couple repetitions if they have a hands-on project to motivate them. I do think the social skills issues are big especially for someone not used to working with middles schoolers. I found last year that my 8th graders had less than zero ability to work as a team - every group or pair activity naturally tended towards one person working and others watching/getting bored, and it took a LOT of active management to keep everyone engaged. I would recommend either individual projects (let them sit together, talk, help each other, but everyone has their own final outcome to own), or if in groups, monitor and work on the teamwork skills very explicitly & actively.


Getting their feet wet in TinkerCAD Circuits has been a huge help to our students. We’ve been using TinkerCAD Circuits as the brainstorming and rough draft portion of the student’s project. They get their Arduino working in TinkerCAD on the computer before they move to the real physical kit. This has allowed us to work with more students, since each student has their own computer, but we don’t have enough Arduinos for each student.

Arduino 2

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We’ve used the Adafruit Circuit Playground ($20 ea) as an intro to programming. It’s got a whole bunch of input/sensors and output capability (RGB LEDs, sound) so you can do quite a bit without any wiring whatsoever. These days you should buy the Circuit Playground Express which is much more capable for $5 more - it can be programmed with MakeCode/Javascript/Python as well as Arduino IDE. (With so much built in, these may be less ideal for teaching the electronics side, though you can interface to a number of I/O pins.)

In 2020 we developed a curriculum around the Pololu Zumo, which we still use as one of our intro programs for new students. But those robots are currently ~$150/ea so may be out of your price range. The XRP that Peter mentioned looks like a promising alternative at a lower price point, assuming it becomes available in the time frame you need it.

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I’ll add that it can be used in Code.orgs interface as well. A little more buggy from my experience but lots of turn key curriculum associated with the playgrounds.

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To tack onto the online-only or simulator aspect if you do go the arduino route… is a pretty good resource

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