Starting a Robotics Camp

Our team has had some success running robotics summer camps over the past two years. We’ve found a model that has worked well for us, and I feel could benefit other teams trying to get started. To date, we’ve had over 250 registrations and have raised over $100,000 in revenue.

There are a lot of details to think about when you’re running a camp, and I’ll expand on all the different parts of our camp and all the things you should at least consider thinking about. But, we’ll start with a basic look into what’s going on. These are the first details you should figure out, and shape all the other parts of your camp.

A bird’s eye view of camp.

You can run camps for a lot of different reasons and in a lot of different ways. For us, our goal for camp is to get campers excited about robotics.

We believe that when kids get excited and interested in something, they will desire to pursue it on their own. We don’t try to be the place where you go to get textbook information, or are learning from qualified experts. There is always time for that during the school year. We just want to get kids excited.

What’s your camp’s goal? Our goal of getting students excited helps us focus on the important things and disregard the less important things. It also is a key motivator for our overall structure:

At our camp, every four campers should has one volunteer counselor (read: high school student). For 5th & 6th, we have campers in groups of two working on a robot, with a counselor overseeing the two groups. With 7th & 8th we have one dedicated counselor for a group of four campers for a single robot. This lets people work in groups to solve more complex challenges, and means that we have more than enough volunteers in the area to help anyone who needs it 90% of time.

We divide our camp up into rooms, with 16 campers + 4 volunteers + 1 room leader in each room. The room leader is there to set up challenges/competitions and generally lead the group in what is happening.

How is your camp structured? For us, we picked a structure that helps us fulfill our goals. Having lots of volunteers around is important for us as it means that campers are never competing for a teacher’s attention which might happen in a classroom setting where it can be anywhere between 8:1 to 30:1. It also is important because it lets us know exactly how many volunteers should be in a room. Too many and a room can get crowded and veer off-topic quickly. Too few, and campers can get overlooked. For us, 4:1 is perfect. Your results may vary.

Watch the clock, Doc.

When will your camp (hours) happen? We run our camp from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, with drop-off for campers starting at 8:30 am and pick-up ending at 3:30 pm. This is considered a full-day camp, as it is six hours long, which many parents appreciate especially if both of them work during the day.

What will campers do? During oursix hours, we do snack, lunch, and some recreation time in between our 3 90-minute build sessions. This requires a lot of planning, with task forces dedicated to things like meal planning, recreation, and facilities setup/teardown. But, by having this variety we have found a way to break up the longer build sessions and to get people outside and active.

Our plan might or might not work for you for one of many reasons. A half day camp (three hours) might be more in your realm of possibilities, or even a workshop-sized camp (90 minutes). You might decide that you want to end at 1:00 pm and not deal with lunch, or that you want to avoid food all together. A couple things to consider when you’re picking your hours are:

  • Activities: What are students doing during this time? Will they be able to accomplish their task in the given time? Will they get bored and need more to do?
  • Meals: Does the camp cross over a meal time? Will your camp provide food for that? Will you allow campers to bring their own food? etc.
  • Volunteers: Do I have volunteers that can make that time commitment? Do I have enough people to do all the activities planned?

Show me the money.

What will your campers pay? Camp registration fees can be very dependent upon your demographic. For us, campers pay $450 to come for one week, and we duplicate the session over 5 weeks. This structure works well for us for a couple reasons:

Offering multiple weeks of the same content means that we can reuse our assets, our curriculum, everything! This is vital because it means that we can take all the work and planning our team has done and make it work over and over again. It also means that we can use the assets we purchase multiple times, which means we can buy the best kits for the job.

Besides that, by offering multiple weeks we are expanding our target audience. If we only offered one week, the only campers that could come would be those who don’t have any trips/vacations/other camps planned on that week. Instead, we cast a wide net that allows us to get as many campers as possible.

Just the beginning.

There is a lot more to think about. I’ll be adding more posts about the decisions that we made for our camp, and how you might go about planning your own.

If you have any questions about anything above, or in general, feel free to send me an email at tyler@team3128.org.

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