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  #16   Spotlight this post!  
Unread 08-17-2005, 10:08 AM
sanddrag sanddrag is offline
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean Schuff
This year our team “borrowed” ideas from other teams (hey, sharing is a part of the spirit of FIRST, right?) and put them to use on our robot. One was a two-speed shift-on-the-fly transmission and the other was an omni wheel. Both were courtesy of Andy Baker and the Technokats. (Thanks Andy!) We did have our engineers and students do some tweaking to make them fit our needs but the fundamental ideas came from another team. And both worked phenomenally well; so much so that we finally won our first competition in our 9 year history. Sharing is the spirit of FIRST and I think we employed those resources well this year.
This isn't exactly on topic but I think it is closely related enough that I'd like to add something as well. In 2004, we "borrowed" a gearbox design from a team in 2003. It was made nearly identical except for some very minor improvements. But what we learned out of the experience of building that thing was incredible! It set us off on the right track to make incredible gearboxes from then on, and even helped in obtaining a new sponsoring shop to help us manufacture the parts. I don't looks down upon anyone who builds another team's design as long as they can argue why it is fit for them and as long as they understand all the inner workings of it.

So anyway, I would say the best experience does not come from handing the students a box of parts and saying "have fun" and seeing what they come up with 6 weeks later. Some form of mentorship, even just reading published whitepapers, I think is crucial to success.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 10:24 AM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Now that I'm back from Europe....

A long time ago I always thought the hardest part of starting a team was getting funding. Now, I think the hardest part is getting mentors. It isn't particularly hard to get a company to donate money but getting an individual to donate time is much harder; particularly the time commitment we're looking at.

The other key component of finding mentors is finding the right mentors. Not everyone is cut out to mentor high school students. For a rookie team, it's also quite helpful to find experienced mentors (which, for a rookie team, can be quite difficult).

So the question is, how do we recruit mentors (particularly those who are experienced) to go work with rookie teams? Most mentors who are working with team will not likely move to a new team without some large incentive (such as their child is on that team).

The only group that I know of that would be unattached to one particular team as well as having experience in FIRST would be college students. What we tried to do in Rochester (to some extent) this past year was to distribute the RIT FIRST college students to the various rookie (primarily) teams in the Rochester area. In many ways it worked but we were still short staffed most of the time.

As opposed to starting new college sponsored teams, I would think that using college students as mentors for other teams may be the best way to go. It helps to take a lot of the burden off of the college students (no need to run a team) and it may provide a greater service to the FIRST community.

Matt
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Unread 08-17-2005, 11:48 AM
KenWittlief KenWittlief is offline
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Quote:
Originally Posted by sanddrag
This isn't exactly on topic but I think it is closely related enough that I'd like to add something as well. In 2004, we "borrowed" a gearbox design from a team in 2003.....
In a way its more on topic than you realize.

Engineering and science are disciplines that build on the work that has been done in the past. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.

When most people think of engineers the idea that pops into their head is some lone inventor, sitting in his basement, coming up with a new mousetrap or a better way to squeeze the last oz of toothpaste from a tube.

But in reality engineering is very different from the lone-inventor. There are methods and processes for tackling new problems, ways to break down a task (like coming up with a strategy for winning a game) - ways to think up new ideas, and ways to analyse those ideas and proceed with the best one.

And here's the thing, these methods and processes are not common sense things, not something you would think of on your own. As I alluded to previously, its taken over a hundred years of experience, trial and error, seat of the pants work to come up with these effecient ways of going from an initial problem to an idea, to a solution that can be built, operated and maintained.

Engineering is a profession. Can you imagine a program like FIRST in the medical field? Would you have HS students performing surgery on animals, with no medical training and no doctors on-hand to learn from? We dont need any doctor-mentors, we can do a heart transplant all by ourselves? The result would be certain death for the patient, and the students would be frustrated, disheartened and discouraged.

I cant think of any simplier way to put this: the intent of FIRST is to bring students and engineering professionals together. How can you take the professionals out of the equation?!
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Unread 08-17-2005, 11:57 AM
Jack Jones Jack Jones is offline
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Quote:
We need to talk. …
Sometimes, this is the big white elephant in the corner that everyone wants to ignore...
I agree Andy. We need to talk about it because it’s more like an 800-pound gorilla sitting there waiting to tear a team apart, or at least to take all the fun out of it.

I also agree with Cory that, “the only thing that will be agreed on is ‘to each their own’”

So, here’s “my own” thoughts as to what this engineering mentor expects to give and gain from the FIRST experience.

For me it’s all defined by the FIRST acronym, with the key words being “Inspiration” and “Recognition”. Many here have stated that it’s all about inspiration. For me, however, it’s more recognition. I want the kids to learn something about what it takes to become an engineer. For them to recognize that they can’t wish, nor boast, nor suppose they know what it takes. I want them to show me they have the aptitude. I want them to know that on their first day, in their first engineering class, they can look to the person on either side and be assured that only one will still be sitting there on the last day of the term. I want them to know that on their first day on the job they will not be asked to form a group with all the other interns and then take a vote on the day’s engineering decisions. I want them to know that I’m not there to entertain them, or to raise their self-esteem, or to let them think for one minute that I can quietly sit back and watch them bollix things up. I want the kids I work with to be the ones who survive that first term and go on to become “real” engineers. On the other hand, I want the ones who twiddle their thumbs to go into something else. So, what I expect to give and gain are one in the same. That is to advance the state of my profession.

If the students, teachers, and parents already know what I’ve learned, then they don’t need me. If they just want someone to find sponsors, buy materials, arrange shop time, or put band-aid fixes on a job not well done, then I don’t need them.

I’d just like to add, before you all begin to take pity on Birmingham-Groves, that this year I was like the Maytag repairman. I never touched the electronics or the programming. I seldom visited the pits and never coached a lick. But that’s only because I had complete confidence in the machine, the plan, the kids, the teachers, and the parents; anything less and I would not been able to keep myself from taunting that 800-pound gorilla.

In my opinion, the right mix of student, mentor, and engineer involvement is when everyone gives it 100%.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 02:35 PM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

I belong to one of these so-called "Student-Run" Teams. I am a mentor.

The reason that people get bent out of shape about this is that they thing the Engineers do all the work. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't (there are some really talented students in this program people). Regardless, some teams opt to have little or no adult involvement. As Andy stated, these teams generally do not "perform" well at the regional.

I think that the real problem here is everyone's definition of "performance". So what if the robot doesn't match up to the other ones? So what if there is something that was designed/built/engineered better than yours? Does this not inspire our students? Does it not make them want to do better the next year?

I think the real measure of a team is the number of students that it produces into the "Engineering field", and the number of scholarships that those students win. Who really remembers who won x-award at x-regional in 200x? What do these things really matter?

Some teams are set up differently than others. As long as there is still inspiration, to each his own.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 03:04 PM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Mr. Fava, a team mentor, says that with FIRST we get to "work alongside the Michael Jordans of the engineering field." FIRST is all about inspiration. Let the engineers inspire the students, and let the students inspire the engineers.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 03:10 PM
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Rich Kressly Rich Kressly is offline
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Baker, you're making my head hurt and it's only August!!!!

Yes, balance seems ideal to me too Andy, yet inspiration happens on the individual level. In twelve years of teaching I've had more than a handful of rather humbling yet remarkable experiences. Old students coming back to visit telling me things that I did in the past, both positive and negative that either helped them or hurt them in the path toward their individual futures. Every time I have one of these experiences I get to learn all over again that the most difficult task of all is understanding what inspires each individual student. A single way of doing something will do wonders for one student, while it may stunt the growth of another.

Thus my answer lies in the "f" word - FLEXIBLE. What works one year, doesn't work the next. What works for one student, doesn't work for the next student. Students graduate, they mature, they change, new kids come in. At least once a year, in a perfect world, every team would reevaluate all of their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences for learning, and build a model for that year based on the current make up of the group and all of its individuals. The idea is to maximize the experience for everyone involved, including so called "grown-ups" and inspiring each and every student on the team.

Therefore, I submit that NO person or team should EVER look at another person or team and say, "It shouldn't be done that way." It's nearly impossible to know what works for every student on your own team. How on earth is it possible to know what works for someone else's?

My .02, now go back to work Andy and quit thinking of stuff that makes my head hurt in August.
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Last edited by Rich Kressly : 08-17-2005 at 03:13 PM.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 03:13 PM
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Andy Grady Andy Grady is offline
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

I think the answer to the question at hand is pretty cut and dry. Every student is inspired in different ways. In my opinion, as long as the competition gets the attention of someone and drags them in, it doesn't matter how they get there.

I've been fortunate enough to have been on multiple teams, each of which was run in a different manner. One team was highly student run, another was run mainly by engineers and teachers, and the last one had a good mix of both. My finding...the majority of students who walked away from the experience on any of the teams felt inspired in some way.

When I was a student in high school, I fell in love with the competition aspect of the game. My team at the time was a very competitive team and they focused heavily on the strategic aspect of FIRST. From that year forward I was hooked, always bringing my hunger for strategy and competition with me. When I changed teams as I became a mentor, we weren't quite as competitive as my previous team, but the results were the same. Everyone enjoyed themselves, this time because of the closeness that the design and build period brought between the students and the college mentors.

With FIRST...if the student cares, its a win win situation. As soon as you are caught up in the atmosphere, the drama, and the glory of it all...you are hooked, and thats pretty much it. Even those who dont stick around for 10+ years tend to look back on their experience as a life altering event. Thats what makes the program as a whole so important.

In closing, why search for the means when the end is more than adequate no matter what you do. The purpose of FIRST is served by just showing up.

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Unread 08-17-2005, 03:22 PM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Dean & Woodie talk about teams having mentors.

Quote:
men·tor Pronunciation Key (mntôr, -tr)
n. 1. A wise and trusted counselor or teacher.
The best teachers I had all through school taught the material they were supposed to teach, not let us read through a book and let us figure it out on their own. They were there to answer questions and make sure everyone understood the material. They also tried to make it fun and interesting as much as possible (we all know Economics isn't the most interesting subject to learn).

I feel a FIRST mentor should be the same way. They should teach the student their ways and their expertise and life skills (whether it is engineering or whatnot), show them that all aspects of a team should be fun, and should be interesting.

By taking away that aspect from a mentor on a team, they've become more of a secretary or a babysitter. I know that if I joined a team where my job as a "mentor" would be to clean up blood and kids cuts and just sit around and observe, I'd be pretty disappointed.

Sure, I can see how you would say each team is different, but as a mentor myself, I'd definitely would have a hard time accepting the fact that I wouldn't be able to help on a 100% student built machine.

Thats just my take on the matter.....
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Unread 08-17-2005, 03:28 PM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Someone sent me a message (by the way this is a much better method than just repping people) that said my original post was angry and bordered on offensive to mentors and after rereading it while some things were fine they were right! I apologize it was unbecoming and i wish to make a new stab at it and see if i can do a better job... but I'm too lazy and since i think the message i sent that person touches on everything i want to say anyways I'm just going to post a modified version of it. What I'm trying to imprint is that mentors should know when to step back and be mentors. I get discouraged when i go to competitions and see robots obviously designed by grownups. Also i like talking with teams and i find too little of the students at IFI know how the robot they built work. In one thread Ive seen this was placed into a question. "When does the competition become about mentor built robots Vs student built robots?" and its true i see to much mentor involvement on some teams (not all and some of you guys are very good at being mentors). And for every one of those robots i wonder how many ideas that while not initially the best idea could develop into something amazing by the students with encouragement from a mentor. Look at this from two different views. One the mentor who works hard to help the students even comes in out of work to do extra work. Its admirable and shows their devotion to the team and to helping out students. Now look at it from a student. The mentors help with with things that might have been overall better left to the kids especially if it would be a valuable learning experience (if your a mentor and your doing something for a team that you know how to do but your not teaching others than this might be one of those times). Also in the end a student looks at a robot and can see exactly what he did. Yes a student can say its cool but an they call it their own? Can they say exactly what their part is in its development and design? This doesn't just extend to mentors though. I'm an experienced student and because of that i catch myself falling into the same trap. Is this going to be "My" robot or the "Teams" robot. Yes they may go along with it because its a cool idea but what have they contributed to make it theirs also. The last thing i want is to offend mentors I'm trying to stress that maybe mentors should look at themselves and ask are they teachers or builders? I really don't want to belittle the mentors contributions, their great and i have lots of respect for them! Its just the pains of knowing things and trying to have everyone else reap the benefit. Well that was it slightly modified to this thread. I just think that mentors should take more of a passive role and try to more guide the students to get their invention working. Uh i guess this is it in a bottle (and applies to all people with knowledge) just because you know a better way IS it a better way? I know that this whole post isn't indicative of ALL mentors on FIRST teams and maybe you don't agree (you can indicate this with a message to me not reps please) but really look at all I'm saying and maybe evaluate the merit of what I'm saying and if you yourself have noticed similar things. I hope that was better and please recognize parts of my origional post could have been better thought out.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 03:30 PM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

I agree with the majority of people here already.... I feel a great way to achieve a well-run team is to have a good balance. The mentors must empower the students to design, build, lead, etc, and the students must be open to learning from the mentors, same as the mentors must be open to learning from students. It's a two-way street and I don't think you can logically argue that. There are some teams that have little to no mentors (or vice versa), but where there's a will, there's a way.. to recruit them... or recruit the help of other teams.

However, the key is defining.... what is inspiration... what is a mentor... what is an engineer... what is a teacher....what is winning...what is good performance....what is an award....what are your goals....what is FIRST about.... Everyone will have a variation to those definitions. So you are always going to have different opinions on what is the best way to run a team. The students will have one idea, the adults will have an idea... Hopefully those groups can come to an agreement. There must be give and take, but above all there must be learning on each side. Many times people have said "inspiration is letting the students do all the work and learn from their failures", while others have said "inspiration is leading by example, teaching students fundamental skills to carry thru the future". I think.. it's BOTH.

I honestly don't feel anyone can realistically say "a student-run team is better" or a "mentor-run team is better". If a student on a student-run team says "a student run team is best way", that implies they know everything (aka "we don't need mentors for anything, they cause more harm than good"). If a mentor says it about a mentor-run team, same implication, and I think that's ludicrous. The students have next to zero "professional" work or real-world experience, and I feel they need someone who does to be effective. But that's not to say adults know everything either - they learn from the creativity and "unconditioned" or "out of the box" ideas from students.

There are positive aspects to all 3 ways of running a team, but personally I feel there are only negative aspects in purely student-run, or mentor-run. (I'm not saying either are terrible, I'm saying there are some negatives to it and most of them are obvious)... The difficult part about a "well-balanced" team is: maintaining the balance between the sides.

So, that's what I think. If there are disagreements within the team about how to run it, then perhaps a team evaluation of your definitions of the above words is in order.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 03:37 PM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

I will admit I don't have an answer. But something seems very wrong to me when I walk into a pit and ask a student about part X only to hear that the brilliant part X was designed by a professional engineer. He/She's a professional, what pride could they possibly get from trouncing a bunch of student designed robots? It's like Michael Jordan going down to the YMCA for a pickup game, joining a team, and totally dominating the other teams. How the hell would that help the kids on his team? Is it okay for Michael Jordan to go down to the Y and help kids work on their jump shots? Sure! Is it okay for a professional engineer to teach kids about practical design considerations in designing a gearbox? Of course! I think you see where I'm going with this.

To keep with the sports star analogy: Imagine if a bunch of star basketball players each adopted a team of aspiring young athletes. Then they held a big competition. I'm sure it would be inspiring to play with a sports star, but you wouldn't be doing much, would you? It would just be mentor on mentor.

What a lot of people fail to realize is that a lot of schools have a lot of inspired students already, students who walk in the first day and have known for a long time they want to be engineers/physicists/mathematicans/etc. For schools like that, maybe the Recognition is of greater importance. Other students can certainly be inspired by the nerdy ones, no?

My team currently has no engineering mentors, but I'm actively changing that. One of the FIRST things I'll do though is make clear that we are not looking for an engineer to design are robot for us so we can gaze over his/her shoulder in silent awe, then do menial tasks at there direction. I'm not sure how an engineer does fit into our team yet, by I'm sure will figure it out.

I aplogize, this is not my usual writing style, it's much more off the cuff than usual, as this is an issue which I harbor very strong opinions on.

You may now mod me down, thank you for reading.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 04:31 PM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

The bottomline is that we're fulfilling FIRST's ideals of inspiring youths to consider careers in science and technology and changing today's outlook in these fields. It doesn't matter if a robot is built and designed 100% by engineers and is the best on the field, or bulit and designed 100% by students and is the worst on the field, or even a combination of the two, as long as the students are inspired.

I've heard this one being reiterated in the FIRST community too many times now and I'm sure inspiration is happening in every FIRST team out there, but has anyone ever considered to take it a step further? I sure have. Instead of letting FIRST simply encourage youths to take on jobs of science and technology, why don't you make it a personal or team goal to produce the leaders of tomorrow? If not the leaders, at least the geniuses of tomorrow. Besides, FIRST isn't only about inspiration, FIRST is also about providing opportunities of enrichment. I'm the taking this opportunity, generously provided by FIRST (and my mentors and teammates, of course), to rise to the top.

Every team is unique, thus, the solution will always be dependant on the team.*sigh* I've heard this one too many times as well. Not that I'm trying to offend anyone, but this sort of thinking doesn't get us very far. What we need are details. "A good balance of...this-that-this" really isn't good enough either I'm afraid. To find a better answer, let us remind ourselves the question at hand.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Baker
Dare I ask... Which "team" is better? What defines "better"?
Keeping in mind that FIRST is out there for the kids, I will firmly say that the student run team is better. Let's be unrealistic for a second. The perfect team would definitely be student run, but will still have mentors supporting and acting as a security blanket in case the students make a big mistake, which they won't if they have earned the responsibility of managing a small business that we would usually call a FIRST robotics team. Mentors will have to be deprived of involvement, but in replacement of that fun is an abundant warm fuzzy feeling. Of course, for this team to be perfect, they would have to be a successful one in competition, therefore having bright and capable students not only in managing team, but also engineering a competitive robot. The perfect team will also be capable of winning every FRC award available and spread the word of FIRST as if it was the plague. Just perfect.

Now, to stop daydreaming. It'll be a while before the perfect team comes along (I won't shoot down the possibility), but the more your team is similar to this one, the closer you will be to achieving this dream.

Unfortunately, what we usually see today are excellent engineer-built robots or not-so-great student-built robots. Between these two types of robots (not considering the existence of excellent student-built robots), not-so-great student-built robots still make the "better" team for FIRST's sake. These are the students that will more likely the geniuses of tomorrow. But we have to remember that engineer-built teams are still good teams for inspiring the students.

Just because a robot is 100% student-built, doesn't mean mentors and engineers still can't help. We must remember that mentors should only be teaching. If mentors keep to teaching students the design process and how to use a machine and etc., and ensure the students are productive, all that is needed from the students is a creative mind and a willingness to work to have an excellent competitive robot.

I am not leaving out the fact that some teams cannot be easily student run or have a student built robot if the students aren't willing, that some students may be too independant to ask for mentor support, that mentors can't help but join the fun and other facts, I am simply directly answering the debate question.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 05:12 PM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

I think that the roles of mentors ultimately depend on what the team wants to gain by participating in FIRST. We seem to have two followings in our team. 1351's leadership seems to have been pushing us toward engineering. They want the team to learn about science, engineering, and technology. Having fun is a second priority. However, there are some that want the team to be something "fun". They want to be here to be with friends and play with a cool robot, making learning a lower priority. With the current leadership soon to be changed, we may change our direction to the latter, depending on how things play out. I'm not saying that you can't generally have fun while you learn and vice versa, just that different people have prioritized them differently. In certain situations, however, you will have to pick whether you want to have fun or you want to learn, with very little middle ground. In those situations, people will go with whichever they want more. Having said that, I'd like to discuss mentors.

To the engineering folk who want to learn, mentors are best suited to teaching. The students get to fumble around a little, but still get help from mentors when they need it. I've found that you can never truly learn something until you do it. I can sit here and tell you everything you need to know about programming, but until you try it, you'll never actually understand how to do it. For instance, you may try to do something that may cause a problem. I never actually told you not to do it, however, because it seemed obvious to me. Everyone has different levels of expertise and has had different experiences in their lives. Until you try something for yourself, you'll never truly be prepared for it.

To those that want to have fun, more mentor involvement would be better. The students can focus less on try to learn how everything works and spend more time playing with everything. The kit comes with enough parts and instructions to make a functional robot, though not that spectacular. For some, that may be enough. They get to spend time with their friends and do something together, but not get caught up with the boring book learning. The mentors, depending on the exact situation, may have to pick up the slack that the students don't really want to take care of themselves.

As another example to my point, my friend does battlebots. He tried to get me into it also, but I just didn't like it. He is a mechanical person and I'm an electronics person. He has fun building the robot. He likes to cut the metal and weld it together. He loves doing the math to show that his robot could probably beat up a car. He doesn't care, however, how the electronics work. He works with the black box mentality. Boxes A and B are connected together using wire C. It doesn't matter how they work as long as they do. As for me, I can care less about the mechanical aspect of it (but battlebots is more geared toward it, which is why I didn't like it). I have more fun programming and designing the electronics. If I had someone to build the chassis, I could spend all the time I want playing with my new mobile electronics platform of doom. My friend, however, would want the opposite.

Now I'm not saying that you should decide your mentor involvement on whether or not you want to have fun or want to learn. I'm also not saying that my opinions are the best way to handle the situations presented. I'm just posing these as examples. Your team may have totally different priorities, or they may just be finer striations of the points that I brought up. Maybe your team wants to prepare students for industry. In that case, you'd need more mentor involvement to teach them how things are done. Maybe your team just wants to give students general engineering knowledge and skills. In this case, less involvement may be better. If you're looking for a way to hang out, parents (depending on how you feel about your family) may be better because now it's a family event.

In the end, your team needs to sit down and decide where you want FIRST to take you. Once you know where you want to go, you can decide how you want to get there.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 07:29 PM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Mr.Baker and Sciguy may I say excellent posts and topic to bring up I like it. In my opinion FIRST teams need as many mentors in the technical fields as possible. People like Mr.Baker (45) and Raul from 111 are the very essence of FIRST the reason why it works so well. The robots without mentors would be boring and the kids would have no one to look up to and no one to guide them in building it. I know that on 1251 without our engineering and various other mentors we would not be able to make our robots and things we deisgn a reality. I think the engineering mentorship piece is critical to a team it shows them what the real world is like and how to deal with problems. Mentors are great I think the fact that they take so much time out and design with the kids really amazing robots is fantasic thanks to all of you out there.

My two cents,
-Drew
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