Every year Team 1735 runs a summer program for middle school students to educate them in robotics. The program is run in late July, costs next to nothing to run if you already own NXT kits, and if done right can spread knowledge of FIRST in the surrounding area and help build support for the team.
The program was run as two separate identical weeks to get twice as many students involved. Each program met Monday through Friday, 9 am to 3 pm. The day started at 9 am where attendance was taken and the participants were given the task for the day. At 10:30 there was a break for snack which was provided by the program consisting of crackers and juice boxes. At noon there was an hour lunch which was brought in by the students. Lunches were held outside when possible and after everyone was done eating the kids were free to run around and play games. After lunch everyone all the participants went back to work until 3pm when they are picked up. By the end of the week everyone has learned how to program the NXTs, built a robot, and then compete against each other.
Below is an outline of each day:
After check-in everyone does ice breakers until the snack break. After the break all participants are introduced to the NXT kit and then broken into groups of 3 or 4 making sure the experience in the group is evenly distributed. After lunch the groups are asked to build the base kit robot for the remainder of the day.
In the morning programming is taught along with a description of how to use all the sensors. After the break the groups are asked to write programs to accomplish certain tasks. They continue after lunch. If every group has finished the programming the game is introduced.
Introduce the game if it wasn't introduced the day before. Have the students brainstorm on the best ways to score points. After the snack break hand out the kits and have them start building their robot.
Continue building robots.
In the morning make final changes to the robot and also start cleaning up the kit that isn't being used. After lunch hold the competition making sure each team has at least two matches. After their final match have the participants take apart their robot and organize their kit. After all robots are put away have a small awards ceremony and send everyone on their way.
The first thing that needs to happen in order to run a program is to find a location to run it. In the situation that Team 1735 had we asked our sponsor (WPI) for a room for two weeks during the summer. We made the case that it would benefit WPI too since it would help spread their recognition in the area and in robotics. The location needs to have open areas in order for the groups to have space to work.
After a location is secured, an instructor needs to be found. The best people to do this are FLL mentors or school teachers. In the case of Team 1735 we used an FLL mentor and paid them to be there. This person was willing to volunteer but the team decided to pay them in order give them a greater reason to be responsible. Other helpers can be students from the FRC team who want to volunteer over their summer vacation. There should be two mentors for the first 10 students and an additional mentor for every 6-8 additional students.
An old FLL game is also needed for the program. Usually one that is a couple of years old is best so those participants that have been in FLL get a challenge they haven't seen before. If you don't have one ask local FLL teams to donate an old game.
The ways that we have used to advertise are listed below. Almost all of them are free:
- Emails (free)
- Sent to all FLL teams in the area
- Sent to all FRC teams in the area
- Sent to all employees at our sponsor
- Fliers ($200)
- Sent to local middle schools
- Handed out at FLL events in the area
- Newspaper (free)
- The local newspaper put a paragraph in their paper
Registrations can be done in several ways. The way Team 1735 managed this was through an online form which asked for name, email address, phone number, entering grade, and preferred week. Other methods include paper forms or phone calls. To determine a registration fee we took how much we expected to spend based of of the expenses listed below and how many students we expected to bring in. We also looked at other summer camps and summer programs in the area to compare prices. After comparing and determing how much of a profit we were aiming for we decided upon $250 per participant.
We stopped taking registrations when we had 24 participants per week in order to allow a good number of groups and also keep the number of students down to a managable level.
The week before the event we sent forms out to all participants. These forms included a medical waiver, emergency contact form, and a media release. We lucked out since our sponsor already runs other summer programs and provided these to us. At this time participants should be alerted of everything they need to know including where to be picked up / dropped off, invite families to the competition on Friday, and anything else needed. Also ask about any allergies the children may have so that any precautions can be taken care of ahead of time.
The parents always have questions and the frequent ones are listed below. The list below are the most frequent ones received:
- Will the children be escorted to the bathroom?
- Have the instructors had a criminal check?
- How many kids will be attending?
- How small will the groups be?
The answers to these questions all depend on your setup.
There are several expenses for running a summer program. The largest two expenses are the venue and the instructor. The venue can vary in price but the instructor should only cost $250-$500 per week. After that the main expenses are advertising and food for the snack breaks. The snacks should cost less than $200 for a week. Another expense would be NXT kits if you don't already have them.