Robotics – Getting Involved

I have a passion for Robotics, I want kids of all ages to be involved. If you’re a kids of younger age, typically K-12 (Kindergarten through 12th grade) you can participate on a team as a member. If you’re an older kid, Collage age and above (i.e. adults), you can participate as a mentor and/or a volunteer at an event.

For students, getting involved is fairly easy. You can either find a team that’s already started and join it. Some teams have student size limits, such as JrFLL (Junior FIRST Lego League) and FLL (FIRST Lego League). Or you can talk to a teacher or parent and start a team.

For adults, again, you can find a team and offer to help out. Most teams need adults to help out with building and programming robots, but adults are also needed to help with PR, fund raising, and dealing with kids. Adults can also either start a team or talk with a local school to about starting a team. However, be prepared for a background check.

Bottom line is Get Involved! If you need help or encouragement to get involved leave a comment or e-mail me, Joe Varnell, at

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is my favorite because their programs span a wide age range of kids involvement, adults can get involved helping with the ages of kids they feel most comfortable with, and it’s world wide.Event volunteers are needed to help make sure teams and robots are safe, robots are built properly, the event moves as it should. Volunteers don’t need to be technical to help. If you’re just wanting to help, there’s queuing, pit administration, crowd control, and safety. If you’re technically oriented there are jobs like robot inspector.  If you’re an adult and want to work an event you can register with VIMS (Volunteer Information and Matching System) with a step by step guide at VIMS Step by Step.

If you’re looking to start a team it all depends on the age of the team. Below are links on how to started on a team of the desired age.

FIRST Starting teams

JrFLL – grages: K-3; Season Aug – Jan: <Start a team page>  <Find a team to help>

FLL – grades: 4-8; Season registration May; Kickoff Sept; Events Nov-Feb; <Start a team page>  <Find a team to help>

FTC (smaller robots, less expensive) – grades: 9-12; Season registration May; Kickoff Sept; Events Nov-Feb; <Start a team page>

FRC (large robots) – grades: 9-12; Season registration – Oct; Kickoff Jan; Events Mar-Apr <start a team page>

You can sometimes find FIRST events and teams using the FTC and FRC Find teams and event.

Vex Robotics Competition
Vex Robotics
Vex robotics is a really great robotics program based on the Vex Robotics kit. They are also world wide with lots of events.  A robot challenge for the next year is given at the Vex Robotics Championships. You then use the Vex Robotics kit and Vex parts to build a robot to compete in the competition. You can find out how to start a Vex team here. Vex Events can be found at

Best Robotics
Best robotics is smaller and less expensive competition. You’re given a a set of supplies and a challenge. From there you build a robot from the supplies to complete the challenge. Some of the supplies are consumable (i.e. wood, PVC, etc) and some you have to return to BEST (i.e. Robot controllers, motors, etc)

A few other links events

NASA robotics competition

Robotic Events

Robotics Mentoring Introduction

My name is Joe Varnell and I have a passion for Robotics, STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), and Mentoring. I have a BS degree in Mathematics from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). I’m an Engineer at Lockheed Martin where I started in the Software Engineering group, moved to Real-time simulations and on the Test Engineering.

I am a Super Nerd and Robotics is my Nerdvana.

I mainly mentor with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and their Robotics programs. I’ve also worked some with Vex Robotics (another good robotics competition) and BEST (Boosting Engineering Science and Technology).

I also speak to kids about Engineering through work and Engineers week and Big Thought. I enjoy working with kids getting them interested in Engineering, Science and Technology. I especially like it when I see the kids have that “Hey, This is Cool!” moment or the “I want to do this!” moment. I don’t know everything about Robotics or Engineering but I am  life long learner and I know I learn a lot from the kids.

I’ve played with Lego Mindstorms robotics since about 2002, when I could claim “It’s for my son”. I didn’t have a goal at the time. After my kids got out of the house to college and jobs my son’s physics teacher, who is the coach for FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) asked if I could help, so I did. At first a couple of days a week for a couple of hours each time. Then, I went to a competition and I was hooked. Over the next years, during Robot build season I would work 40 hours a week at my regular job and 40 to 45 on FIRST. I started helping rookie teams in the area and helping via e-mail and phone calls when they weren’t in the area.

Now I also Volunteer at FIRST events doing FTAA (FIRST Technical Advisor Assistant), Robot Inspection, and whatever else is needed.

That’s a little bit about me. I’m hoping I can use this blog to help kids learn to love Robotics and Engineering as much as I do. And to be proud of their inner Nerd!