Table of Contents
Starting a Team or Club
For clubs outside the United States, you will need to understand the grade level definitions used by the RECF for competition teams. Below are the definitions for VEXIQ Challenge and VEX Robotics Competition. If you have questions, you can contact your RECF Regional Manager for assistance.
VEXIQ Challenge has specific definitions for student and grade level in the game manual each year, for Ring Master season 1):
- Student – Anyone born after April 30, 2004 (age 13 or lower) or enrolled in grade 8 or lower on April 30, 2018. Anyone enrolled in grade 9 on April 30, 2018 is only eligible to participate on a VEX IQ Challenge team when enrolled in a middle school or district, which includes grade 8, but not grade 10. Students are the individuals who design, build, repair, and program the Robot, with minimal adult assistance.
- Elementary School Student - A Student enrolled in grade 5 or lower or enrolled in grade 6 in a school, which includes grade 5, but not grade 7 (e.g., K-6, 2-6, 3-6, 4-6, 5-6).
- Middle School Student – Any eligible Student that is not an Elementary School Student.
VEX Robotics Competition has specific definition for student and grade level in the game manual each year, for the In The Zone season 2):
- Student – Anyone enrolled in a pre-college school or is home-schooled as part of a pre-college educational curriculum and is born after April 28th, 1999. Eligibility may also be granted based on a disability that has delayed education by at least one year.
- Middle School Student – A Student enrolled in grade 8 or lower or enrolled in grade 9 in a school, which includes grade 8, but not grade 10.
- High School Student – Any eligible Student that is not a Middle School Student.
Here's what you need to get started:
- 3 to 5 kids of about the same grade level with an interest in robotics
- An adult that is willing to take charge
Next, you need to determine at what grade level (Elementary, Middle, or High School) and on what platform (IQ or EDR) you would like to focus on.
Elementary is grades K-5, Middle School is grades 6-8 (unless 9th grade is in the same building), and High School is grades 9-12. All kids on a team need to be at the same school level. For a small private club that is only going to run a few years, they can all be the same grade if that's the way it works out, but for a school or club program that is intended to run indefinitely, mixing up the grade level of students on a given team has benefits.
VEX IQ is like K'Nex, Lego, or Lego Mindstorms (which it competes with directly) - plastic pieces that get clicked together. No tools and very little mechanical background is needed for success. VEX IQ can be used at the Elementary and Middle School levels, and is significantly cheaper than the metal VEX EDR kits. VEX EDR is similar to Erector sets for those of us old enough to remember what they are. Metal pieces, connected by screws, with some mechanical aptitude required for success. MUCH more flexible for construction and design, though. In my experience, MOST middle school students can handle VEX EDR - however, again, if budget is a driving force, VEX IQ is considerably cheaper across the board.
Your next step is to register your teams…
Go to https://www.robotevents.com/ and create an account (“Register”). Select “Register a new team” for whatever level you are creating a team for. You can either select a team number (it must be a team number that isn't already being used). Your team will also need to have an Alpha suffix, i.e. 5555A. If you are registering multiple teams for the first time, for ease of management, register your teams sequentially; i.e. if you are registering 4 new teams, make them 5555A, 5555B, 5555C, and 5555D. The cost for registering your first team is higher than the cost for registering subsequent teams.
2017-18 In The Zone Season Registration Fees:
- 150 USD for organization and first team
- 100 USD for each addition team registered in an organization
VEX Foundation Grant
The REC Foundation offers grants of a Free VEX EDR Competition SuperKit plus accessories or a VEX IQ Superkit plus accessories to qualifying new teams. Instructions on how to apply for the grant can be found here.
OK, now what?
Pete Ruckelshaus, Team 7517[A-K] I was contacted by the father of one of my students; the father was involved in VEX and now works for the foundation. I took the idea to my building principal (I'm a middle school teacher) and…well, he sort of got carried away. Next thing I know, he sees me in the hallway and tells me that he's ordered 10 EDR competition kits. Due to my complete lack of experience with VEX, I had little if any idea of what that meant and what I was getting myself into. I scheduled an intro meeting for students, and had 96 students in a classroom that normally held 30. I guess we were going to have a big team. After the initial outlay, the school was going to provide us with a small budget and we would be responsible for the rest.
The first year was a wash. We didn't go to any competitions, but we spent the season getting to learn all about VEX, organizing our kits, etc. We met two days a week after school for 1.5 hours per day. In the end, we had about 60 6th - 8th graders who showed up on a regular basis. As a teacher and facilitator, it was overwhelming - there were far too many kids for any number of reasons. First, there were 3 adults (most of the time) leading a very hands-on activity. Second, with an average of 6 or 7 kids per team, half of the kids were actually working on their robots, with the other half just sitting around. Middle schoolers don't just sit around well.
We went into the second season with a better idea of what we needed to do, but still without any competition experience. First, we limited team size to 4 kids per team, so 40 kids total. That made people management much easier, and each student had something to do. We charged a club fee of $50 per student to help defray expenses and also ensure that kids would actually show up - with the fee, there was more ownership of the club by students and their parents. We learned how to cut metal and we went beyond the Clawbot to where the kids were creating their own designs to solve the challenge problem. The kids were learning, they were having fun, and somehow, we had a few teams qualify to go to states. Also, with the help of our regional rep and a couple of other clubs, we ran our first event with 24 robots competing total. It was a good experience, and it added a bit to our revenue so that we could buy things that the team needed. Additionally, we applied for and received a sizable grant from the district community education foundation, which I used to buy tools and materials for the team. However, I was still behind the power curve with VEX - there's a ton to learn and with everything else going on with running a large team, I still wasn't completely comfortable with the platform.
The third season was incrementally better than the second. We tried to run a full event, but unfortunately it was snowed out. The only real SNAFU was limiting the number of kids to 40 - I ended up running registration as first-come, first-served, but parent complaints led to that being changed to a lottery drawing. From this point on, the kids who participated in robotics in the prior year are automatically on the team, and everyone else gets in via lottery.
By the fourth season, I realized that I was finally very comfortable with how everything worked. That was a huge help, and my enthusiasm for the program improved (I would say that I was a reluctant VEX coach until then). By this point I had 8th graders who had participated in VEX for 3 years. They were pros, and they were great at sharing their experience with the younger kids (sometimes I needed to prod them in that direction, though). We ran two full events, and through event registration fees and a snack bar, we raised a considerable amount of money - enough to buy a second field. I also started building up a supply of spares - extras of things that break, get lost, or just wear out. It was a good season, and 9 out of 10 teams qualified for states. I also helped our high school get a team started, as well as a middle school in another district.
Main things I've learned
- Ask for help if you need it. VEX is a community and there are others willing to help you when needed.
- Use your program to develop “soft skills” in your kids - problem solving, conflict resolution, teamwork, etc. Sometimes, the best approach is to tell them to work it out rather than solving their problem for them.
- You are there as a guide. Don't design, don't program, don't build robots. The kids learn nothing when you do the work for them.
- Don't set the bar too high for your first few years. The days of a true first year robot making it to worlds are, for the most part, gone.
- Success or failure revolves around support from parents and volunteers. You can't run an event without lots of volunteers.
- Hit the ground running every season. For school teams, you should have your first meeting by the 2nd week of school and kids should be building by the 4th meeting.
- Kids don't really get an idea of how much they have to do until the first competition of the season - try to get one in early to act as “motivation”.
If I had it all to do over again…
- I wouldn't have started with so many kits/teams/kids. 3 or 4 teams and less than 20 kids total are far more manageable, and give you an opportunity to learn VEX along with the students. Ramp up once you are comfortable.
- Absolutely limit the number of kids per team to 4, 5 at the absolute maximum.
- Having 1 adult (usually parent volunteers) per 2 or 3 teams is essential to success.
- Treat this like a coach would treat a sports practice. Kids need to be at EVERY build time. Set a threshold for missed build times leading to a student being off the team. Kids need to make every competition. If they have too many other commitments, they really need to make a choice.