Clubs are a great way to unite people that are interested in the same topics. Robotics clubs are no exception! If you’ve been tasked to start a robotics club, then you’ve come to the right place. Robotics is a complex subject, so don’t expect to have your program set up overnight. With some careful planning and organization, you can launch a robotics club or start a robotics team within a couple of weeks.
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In this article, I’ll share with you the steps to starting a robotics club. Consider this the comprehensive, tactical guide that anyone can use (regardless of if you have robotics experience or not) to get their robotics club started. There’s quite a bit of information here, so I recommend bookmarking this page for future reference. Now, let’s talk about the steps needed to start a robotics club.
Step 1. Decide on the Robotics Club Purpose
Before you can start a robotics club, it’s important to decide on its purpose. It’s important to survey students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Figure out what members will want to work on. Decide if you have enough interest to have a functioning club. Then, determine if the robotics club will be educational, competitive, informative, or a combination. Let’s take a look at each of these purposes in detail.
Educational: Build and Learn with Robots
One of the easiest ways to convince an administration, PTA, or organization to approve a new robotics club is to have an educational purpose. Because robotics is a combination of programming, electronics, and mechanics, the robotics club provides a valuable learning environment to promote skills that translate well into STEM careers. Plus, students have a lot of fun building robots, which is a win-win all around. If you’re looking for a way to bring hands-on robotics into your remote or hybrid classroom, then you’ll want to check out our remote teaching solution.
Competitive: Solve Challenges and Compete
Another reason to start a robotics club is to compete in robotics competitions. There are a lot of national and local robotics leagues including FIRST and VEX. While these are very popular, there are costs associated with starting up a robotics team, building the robot, and traveling to events. Expect to spend anywhere from $500-$10,000 depending on which league you choose and what type of robot you have to make.
Additionally, you can divide up the club into smaller teams and host an internal competition. As a result, you can reduce travel costs while still feeding the need to compete.
Informative: Share and Collaborate
The third reason to start a robotics club is to provide a forum for sharing new technologies, individual robotics projects, and any upcoming events within the community. Think of a “robotics meetup group.” If you’re starting a robotics club that’s open to the public, then this could be a good purpose to adopt. A lot of community robotics clubs meet monthly and provide a place for networking, collaborating, and sharing tips and tricks. It’s less about providing formal education side, and more about bringing like-minded individuals together to talk about robots.
Step 2. Actually, Start a Robotics Club
The next step is to sit down and plan out the robotics club. Some questions to think about are:
- What is your budget?
- Who will run club meetings?
- What ages will participate?
- When and where will the robotics club meet?
It’s important to take time and propose answers to these questions before taking your club idea to your organization or administration. They’ll probably ask you these questions, and if you don’t have a good answer, it’ll take longer to get your robotics club approved. Now, let’s talk about each of these questions in more detail.
What’s the Budget?
One critical factor in starting any club is the budget. Similar to how a sports team needs uniforms and equipment, robotics requires robotics kits, tools, and computers. These all add up, especially if you’re going to have 10+ members involved in your club.
At a bare minimum, I recommend having around $8k-$20K set aside for your robotics class. For more formalized robotics teams, this may not cover the cost of registration, travel, and associated membership fees. Mileage will vary, but the more funding you can set aside, the better your program will be. If it’s a less formalized club, then you might be able to get away with less. For formal classes, you’ll need to spend money on hardware, courseware, tools, instructor training, and unexpected expenses.
I recommend setting aside around 10-25% for tools, 50-75% for kits and hardware, and 25-40% for training and curriculum. These are just ballparks, but with planning, you can figure out what works well for your class.
Additionally, if you don’t have computers, you’ll need them. Not tablets, but laptops or desktop computers. Realistically, you’ll want to set aside at least $300-350 per computer. Anything cheaper than that is probably garbage, and you’ll have more issues with the computer than you’ll want to deal with. Make sure the computers have Windows 7 or Windows 10 installed at a bare minimum.
Here are some great options if you’re looking at computers.
If you have a choice between Chromebook or not, I’d choose not. Windows or Mac options are more expensive, but they provide greater flexibility. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, and that’s okay. If you do though, consider picking up a standard OS like macOS or Windows 10.
Now that you have an accurate representation of the club’s budget, it’s time to decide who will run the club.
Who will lead the robotics club meetings?
If it’s you, then you can skip this step. Otherwise, you’ll need to appoint a teacher, parent, volunteer, or mentor to run the robotics club. Some community robotics clubs (where the members are 18+) are self-sufficient and the members run the meetings.
If you’re setting up the robotics club as part of a school, then you’ll want to make sure you have enough adults for the age and number of students involved. Check with the administration to make sure you meet the requirements for your school.
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Which age group(s) will participate?
You have a purpose, a budget, and a leader for your robotics club. But, who will be participating? Is it an Adults robotics club? A robotics club for elementary kids? A middle or high school robotics club? It’s important to define the age group for your robotics club. Typically, if you’re starting an afterschool robotics club, the club is geared towards the same age group as the school.
It’s important to define the age group so that you can purchase appropriate robots and tools. It wouldn’t make sense to buy a bunch of Raspberry Pi’s, sensor kits, and power tools if you’re running an elementary robotics club. The same is true for other age groups. Use the age group to provide appropriately aged kits, components, and learning materials to make your robotics club a success.
Where and when will the robotics club meet?
Lastly, decide on where and when the robotics club will meet. Is it a monthly, weekly, or daily club? What time is it held? After school? Before school? On the weekends? Set a schedule for your robotics club and make it public to your members. This is especially important for new robotics clubs because no one likes to feel “out of place.” By securing a meeting spot and time, you’ll put newcomers at ease.
Step 3. Pick out Robotics Kits and Tools
You can’t have a robotics club without robotics kits and basic tools. While this list isn’t comprehensive, and you may not be looking to create a makerspace, I wanted to provide you a list of equipment, parts, and tools that you’ll need to get started.
I wrote this list in the order of priority, so you can slowly work up to everything on this list over time. Or, if you received funding or charge a membership fee, you can allocate the funds appropriately. Another option is to have members bring their laptops and tools and focus on providing the robotics kits and a space to host the meetings.
1.Robotics Kits & Components
The most important part of starting a robotics club is having robotics parts, kits, and components at your disposal. You’ll want to have enough kits for at least half, if not all of your members. If you’re hosting an afterschool or extracurricular robotics club, it’s nice to have a variety of spare parts so that everyone can be involved. The specific kit you buy has to make sense for the age group of the robotics club.
Here are some robotics kit ideas divided up by age groups:
- Ages 5-10: LEGO WeDo, LEGO Boost, Meet Edison
- Ages 11-14: LEGO Mindstorms EV3, Cubit, Arduino, Raspberry Pi
- Ages 15-18+: LEGO Mindstorms EV3, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Raspberry Pi Robot
Other than Amazon, you can buy robotics parts, fasteners, and components on Robotshop.com, McMaster-Carr, Arrow Electronics, Adafruit, and SparkFun.
If you’d rather have an all-in-one kit + training program, check out Learn Robotics Level 1 and Level 2 courses. Buy the robotics bundle and save!
The next thing you’ll need is a computer lab or laptops. If members bring their computers or if your school has a laptop cart or computer lab you can use, then you can skip this step.
Otherwise, I recommend getting computers that have at least the following specifications:
- Processor: 8th Gen Core i5
- RAM: 8GB
- SSD: 256GB / SSD are better than HDD
- Operating System: Windows 10, macOS, Linux, (ChromeOS if you have to)
- Communications: Bluetooth & WiFi
Some computers that meet this specification are the Dell Inspiron 15 and the 2020 Dell Inspiron 14. You can always opt for better computers if your budget allows for them.
Related: View our Top Picks for Engineering Laptops in 2020
I’ve been a big fan of the MacBook since 2012 when I bought mine. A lot of people presume that Macs are “too expensive;” however, I’ve had my 2012 Mac for almost 8 years now, and it’s a beast. If you have to replace a $300 cheap computer every year, then you would have spent over $2K on computers by now. If you have the money to spend $1000-$1500 per computer, then I’d highly recommend the MacBook Pro. You can also opt for the Mac Mini and reuse peripherals that your school already has (keyboard, mouse, monitors, etc.)
Furthermore, Raspberry Pi single-board computers are great for prototyping, but they’re awful as a replacement for desktop computers. (We’ve tried it.) If you want any level of productivity, then it’s worth spending the money on a laptop.
Thirdly, you want to make sure the room you’re using has enough desks, chairs, and workbenches for members to work at. Most classrooms already have tables and chairs. You can move a bunch of smaller desks together to create collaborative workspaces. If you’re tasked with furnishing the space as well, I recommend some large folding tables or Gladiator workbenches.
Bookshelves, toolboxes, and clear storage bins are also helpful to organize the club. Tools often walk away, so if you have a home for them, you’ll be able to keep track of everything.
4. Hand Tools & Power Tools
Additionally, you’ll want to have basic tools such as screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, and scissors available. There are some great household toolsets that you can buy to get an assortment of the basics. I recommend DEWALT, Stanley, Cresent, Craftsman, Ryobi, and KOBALT tool brands. If you have to buy tools, don’t cheap out. Tools are designed to be a “one and done” purchase, so make sure you buy quality equipment so that you don’t have to replace them.
While I don’t recommend having industrial-grade power tools, a couple of drills and hot glue guns make assembling robots a lot faster. You can also pick up a label maker to mark all the tools that belong to the club. This is a great way to ensure you have all the tools and to deter tools from disappearing.
5. 3D Printers & Laser Cutters
Lastly, I wanted to mention some cool items that you may want to consider for your robotics club.
3D printers and Laser Cutters can be used to manufacture custom parts. If you’re offering the robotics club to the community, this is a great way to get people into your club. Most people don’t have regular access to laser cutters and 3D printers, so it’s a nice feature to have. If you have an interest in CAD modeling, robotics, making, and more, then a 3D printer is a great way to get started!
If you’re hosting the robotics club at a school, this could be a great way to introduce 3D printing and laser cutting to students.
Some schools already have 3D printers, so if that’s the case, you could ask to borrow the 3D printer for your meetings. The more creative the robotics club is, the more likely you’ll have people eagerly ready to join!
We recently picked up a FlashForge Adventurer 3 Lite, and it’s awesome. 3D printer kits are great for learning, but they take a lot of time to tune and manage.
Get Ahead with your Robotics Club
In this article, we explored ways to start a robotics club. This tactical guide can help you launch a brand new robotics club, start a robotics team, or integrate robotics into existing extracurriculars. Robotics is a complex subject and does require planning. But with a little preparation, you can bring the fun of robotics to your school or community.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution to structure, innovate, and advance your robotics class, then you’ve come to the right place.
Join our online classes as an individual or check out our Powered by Learn Robotics Program if you’re representing a school, organization, or club. We help people Learn Robotics, regardless of their background!
Every student gets a kit, which they can use to follow along with the online activities. While they’re building, they’re learning. This is an effective way to teach students the fundamentals of coding, electronics, and robotics.
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Robotic Club Teacher Sponsor at Middle School.
How do we find local robotics competitions for middle school students with very low budgets to start with?
Hi Larry, we have some awesome options for starting local robotics competitions through our Club Sets. Feel free to check them out or schedule a call with our team and we’d be happy to help you out! ~Liz from Learn Robotics
Grandparent 81 , very retired ! Some programming years ago (1970s) w Apple IIs and college computer lab management
1. How to get middle school/elementary girls and minorities enrolled/members of a robotics club ?
2. Start up grants for schools (elementary/middle school) ?
Live in Estes Park, CO, grandkids in Steamboat Springs, CO
Exciting world of technology! Here are some quick answers to your questions:
1) Create the robotics club (we have a really great robotics program that you could offer that provides the materials you need to get started!) and then market it to those students. Schoolboards, PTO, and other community groups can help with this!
2) This is a great question – we’re working on creating a list of grants that will be released on the Learn Robotics website really soon – stay tuned!
~Liz from Learn Robotics