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Robot clubs


Today's articles about the Boost set (#17101) made me think about something I have had in the back of my mind for a while.

I work in IT education and I've been fortunate enough to be involved in some projects where I have used Lego as part of the courses I teach. Now I have a bunch of Mindstorms kits (amongst other stuff) which is currently not being used. What I am wondering is how I can use all the Mindstorms gear I have, plus my training background and ninja programming skills (ahem), to contribute to the programming expertise of future generations.

I know that many schools have robot labs or after-school robot and/or more general computing clubs (Huw of Brickset mentioned he participates in one, in one of the Boost articles), and I know that there are some independent robot clubs and companies that run courses for kids, then there is First Lego League and so on. What I don't really know is how widespread these things are, or what parents think of them. 

Of course I can find out tons of stuff online, but I would be interested to hear Bricksetters' thoughts. If you are a parent- do your kids attend a club (at school or outside) where they use robots to teach programming? Do you join in yourself? Do your kids enjoy it and does it help them with other school subjects such as science? If your kids don't currently participate in such activities, would you be interested in something like a robot club if there was one in your area?

p.s. of course I know that the first rule of robot club is that we don't talk about robot club :)


  • thebeermonkeythebeermonkey GlasgowMember Posts: 387
    I'm a teacher so I can tell you my experience. I set up and run the Young Builders Club who get together a couple of lunchtimes per week to plan and build a few things with the aim of running a show in the local community at some point this year. Also, the Head of Computing has a Mindstorm crew who create movable feasts.

    Lego is also used by Learning Support Department within the school to focus some kids and to stimulate their creative side.

    Hope this helps.
  • JenniJenni USAMember Posts: 1,273
    I've recently made it to the end of our first FIRST LEGO League season. I coached one team, assistant coached another and filled in for missing coaches for the third.

    My 12-year-old daughter was on one team and has sworn to never do it again, the other kids are mostly looking forward to next year.

    I don't know that it helped her at school, there's a research project component that they're using to fulfill an IB requirement.

    We were three of eighteen teams at the local competition (area population > 1,000,000). Our region had four competitions with about a hundred teams signed up. 

    FLL isn't cheap, even if you have enough Mindstorms elements it costs $375 a team here.

    Feel free to message me if you have other questions.
  • cheshirecatcheshirecat Member Posts: 5,331
    @Jenni out of interest what is that money for?
  • BillyBricks84BillyBricks84 United StatesMember Posts: 272
    ^ I coached an FLL team as an after-school group (I'm a 6th-grade teacher) for 6 years. I can tell you, @cheshirecat, that the money is needed for registration for the regional tournament, as well as for purchasing the mat and LEGO that apply to the challenge each year so that $375ish is a recurring cost on top of anything spent on Mindstorms elements and any additional LEGO pieces purchased to build the robot. About 8 teachers in my district were able to run teams through a grant from Motorola each year. There are dozens of other teams in the area made up of home-school students, students from other schools, friends whose parents were willing to run a team, or kids whose parents work for a company like Motorola.

    There seems to be a lot of growing interest in FLL. For example, one of the regional tournaments that I went to had to split into two groups of 16 at the same middle school because of the number of teams that needed placement in that area.

    For the most part, the kids on my teams wanted to do the program again the next year when they went from me to the junior high. Because of student interest at my school and limits on team size from FIRST (only 10 can be on an official team), I only took 6th-grade students on my teams, which meant I only worked with them for a year. 

    I think if a coach helps the kids take the research process seriously, there is academic growth. My kids would work on finding quality resources, gathering notes, developing their own ideas/solutions to problems, and gaining the confidence to e-mail or conduct in-person interviews of "experts" related to the research. They also gained knowledge of the science topic that season, which has included medical issues, natural disasters, and endangered species. 

    If you want some first-hand experience seeing these groups in action, I know one of my state-level tournaments (Illinois has two) is coming up on January 14th, so a lot of the larger tournaments will be occurring in the upcoming weekends. State- and country-level tournaments, I believe, are listed on the FLL site and free to the public. 
  • HuwHuw Brickset Towers, Hampshire, UKAdministrator Posts: 5,981
    I help at the local kids' computer club that meets once a week for 1.5 hours. Mindstorms is just one of the things we do, usually once a term for 3 weeks, along with stop-frame animation (using LEGO of course), Minecraft programming, Scratch, BBC MicroBit/CodeBug, 3D printing and so on.

    The kids generally enjoy Mindstorms, more so if the robot fires things. It can be a challenge achieving something in 4.5 hours, though. As we have a fairly high turnover of kids (they usually stay for a year or so) we can repeat the same tasks (line followers, don't-fall-off-the-table bots and so on) so it's not too bad. Most have learned Scratch at school so can get to grips with the Mindstorms GUI without too much problem. 

    The club is not really run with education in mind: more for fun, but if the kids take something away from it then so much the better of course.
  • GeordiePaulGeordiePaul Salem, MA, USAMember Posts: 343
    @EvilTwin I don't know anything about Robot Clubs (sorry) but Spaced is my favourite tv show. Was your Fight Club reference based on the Robot Fight Club episode, or was it an accidental reference?  Either way, good luck with your Lego club. It's good to see people giving up their own time to help out others in the community.
  • JenniJenni USAMember Posts: 1,273
    @cheshirecat Itemized it's this

    Team registration $225
    Materials kit $75 + tax
    Event registration $75
    It's also pretty much unheard of to not have team t-shirts for the competition.

    We stuck to six kids per team for our first year so each kid ended up paying $61 because our school owns about 40 Mindstorms education kits. We used about twelve for the three teams.
  • EvilTwinEvilTwin UKMember Posts: 77
    @EvilTwin I don't know anything about Robot Clubs (sorry) but Spaced is my favourite tv show. Was your Fight Club reference based on the Robot Fight Club episode, or was it an accidental reference?  

    Although I do love Spaced, I had completely forgotten about that episode, so it was completely accidental. However, since you reminded me about it I dug out my DVDs and watched that episode... and then watched the whole of both series right through :)

    Anyway thanks for the comments. Likes all round! What I have discovered from here and elsewhere is that there is a wide spectrum of inclusion of robotics related topics using both Mindstorms and other platforms, in schools and clubs around the country. As mentioned here some schools have well-equipped labs with many Mindstorms kits, but there are other schools that have nothing. In another town in my county there is someone who runs their own robot clubs and an FLL team and also visits schools that have no equipment of their own and charges an hourly rate (they are far enough away that I wouldn't be invading their territory). I think I will see if I can find contacts at my own local schools and see if they are interested in something similar.

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