Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is receiving a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. STEM education helps students understand the world around them, from the natural world of plants and animals, to computers and tablets, to balancing checkbooks and beyond. What’s more, many of today’s controversies and political decisions are informed by science, and students will need to understand this information to perform their duties as citizens in a democratic society. STEM jobs are also one of the fastest growing job sectors, and demand is expected to keep going up. But how do we get kids excited about STEM education and interested in pursuing these kinds of jobs?

It may be a lot easier than you think. Robotics programs are hugely popular at schools across the country, and students get genuinely excited about the opportunity to learn and experiment with machines. If you’re looking for ways to get kids hooked on STEM, starting a robotics program could be the ticket. Here are some basic steps to think about and follow to get a robotics program started at your school.5 Steps to Starting a Robotics Program at Your School [Infographic] First, decide what role your robotics program will play at your school and set goals.  Robotics programs can be implemented into middle schools and high schools in a number of ways. Your program can be organized into an academic team, an after-school club, a course or series of courses, or it can be used to enhance core learning. Taking the concepts taught in math and science courses and applying them to a real-world robotics project can greatly increase student engagement in STEM subject areas. Be sure to outline what goals you would like to accomplish by starting this new program. Do you want your school to participate in competitions like the FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC®) or the VEX® Robotics Competition? Do you want to help students build college and career skills? Or do you simply want to provide students with more opportunities to participate in STEM activities?  Second, determine what resources you can dedicate to the program. Part of what students love about robotics is, of course, getting to build robots! Carefully outline what expenses you will need to consider for a program of the size and scope you wish to implement. Think about how much funding you can budget for supplies or staffing, but don’t forget to consider what resources your school may already have available. Will you be using VEX® IQ kits or LEGO® MINDSTORMS®? Be sure to look into federal and private grants for STEM and robotics as well as local sponsorship opportunities.  Third, designate mentors to oversee and facilitate the program and guide students.  If your robotics program will be part of a fully-fledged robotics course, you’ll need a highly qualified teacher in place with the right skills and knowledge to teach students multifaceted lesson plans that will involve everything from math and science to coding and design. Even a robotics club or academic team will need mentor teachers available to help students set and achieve goals. Work with your staff to determine who has the right skills to provide students with the guidance they’ll need to see a project through. It’s very likely that your teachers will find themselves learning alongside their students.  Fourth, plan your implementation.  Whether your robotics program will be implemented as a course or an academic team, you’ll need to set aside time and space for it. You’ll also need to select and purchase any hardware or software that might be required to get your program off the ground. Additionally, outline some short-term and long-term goals or projects, but keep the program student focused, with plenty of openings for students to make choices about what they want to learn or accomplish with each project. Think about how you will get the word out to students and recruit them to join. Be sure to enlist the help of guidance counselors and teachers in your recruiting efforts, and send an official announcement home to parents and guardians.  Last, make it happen!  By taking the extra time to lay the foundation for your robotics program and really plan for its implementation, you can get things off to a running start and avoid a lot of common pitfalls and roadblocks. But don’t expect things to go off without a hitch. There are sure to be a few snags in the road here and there, so deal with challenges as they arise and think of ways to overcome or avoid problems as your program moves forward. And never stop looking for ways to fund your robotics program. There are more grants and funding opportunities for STEM than ever before, so there are lots of ways to grow and expand.

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Debbie Malone

Debbie is an Arizona native and longtime resident of the Phoenix area. She has always had a passion for telling a good story and decided to study journalism and mass communication at Arizona State University where she earned her BA in 2009. Following graduation, she spent four years working as a web content writer before joining the Edgenuity family in 2014. Debbie is proud to be able to share the story of Edgenuity’s efforts to propel students everywhere toward academic success and achievement. In addition to writing (both professionally and for fun), Debbie also enjoys reading, gaming, archery, and avoiding sunlight.