The First Robotics program is like STEM on Steroids. Student teams, mentored by real engineers, work together for 6 weeks to design, build and program a robot from a standard kit of parts, that will excel in a given annual challenge. Sometimes robots need to throw discs into a goal, other times they need to climb pyramids; every year it is different. Teams across cities, regions and states compete in large sports arenas complete with all the energy, music and spectacle of a professional sports game. Many kids who participate say it is the most transformative and rewarding part of all of high school. Legendary inventor Dean Kamen created this program to turn science and technology into a sport that kids love to play.
Teams register in the fall and start the design/build process in January and robots ship deadline is late February. It is a time intensive after school activity. Registration plus the robotics kit cost about $6,000 per team, plus up to an additional $3,500 can be spent on building out the robot. Teams charge, fundraise or look for sponsors to cover these costs.
There are many levels of First participation: for younger kids, take a look at First Lego and Junior First, joint efforts between First and Lego that allows younger kids from 1st grade on to build robots with Lego kits. There is also First Tech Challenge which is a lower key middle/ high school transition program. All this said, I find the First site overloaded with info. The best thing to do may be be to find a coach/mentor in your area and talk through the process. FIRST exemplifies that deep learning can be messy and time consuming, but the results are out of this world.