16? Or is it 17? It bothers me that I can't remember how long I have been running the robotics classes in the middle school after school program. It was when my now fully adult, engineer son was a student there but was he in 6th grade or 7th when we started doing this?
By that point we had already been building combat robots for a Minneapolis based competition as our "father-son" projects and it seemed natural to go to the folks running the program and offer to do a class for them. "Let's have distracted 11 year olds build large Robotic Death Machines!"
To their considerable credit they asked very few questions. After leading with a polite variation of "Are you insane?" they inquired as to whether we could scale down the size, danger and expense levels. We could indeed.
So for lo these many years we have been building 1 and 3 pound combat robots and having them fight to chaotic dismemberment in the interests of fun and technology education.
We've had several different combat arenas, culminating in what I think is the Ultimate Version seen below.
A few times we ran the class twice in a school year, before eventually morphing the spring version into an advanced robotics class. That in turn evolved into the high school FIRST robotics team. In a highly useful bit of circular development the high school students - many of them my alumni - now come to help with the middle schoolers. It's a great farm system for The Show.
Both sections, Tuesday and Thursday, are encouraging. Some creative thinkers. And of course one or two who are extremely pesky, being blessed or cursed with too much smarts and too much imagination for the work-a-day world. These are the high school FIRST team members of the future.