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Unread 06-26-2008, 04:57 PM
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FAHA: The Effects of Vex

I'm going to start out this thread by saying that if it turns into namecalling, it's going to get shut down. That being said, this fairly controversial topic has been raised, and I think the CD community may benefit from the discussion.

This poster worries about the ramifications of choosing Vex over FTC. He/she is concerned that if his/her team participates in Vex, that judges may look at it as a slap in the face. What thoughts and/or advice do you have for this questioning FIRSTer?

-------------------------------------------------------------

We all know that FRC teams have supported FTC teams and run tournaments in the past. In schools that have both FRC and FTC, the programs are invariably tied together. When competing, FTC teams usually "represent" their bigger FRC siblings. They are joined at the hip.

This summer, many FRC teams will have the choice between FTC and VEX for their smaller siblings, and it certainly isn't an easy one. Some teams will migrate to FTC's new kit, some will stay with the VEX platform. Whichever program is chosen, there is no doubt that the parent FRC team will support the sibling program with continued fervor.

But,

What if the school chooses VEX?

What if the school tries to grow VEX with the same effort it did with FTC?

What if it runs a VEX tournament in their school, provides countless volunteers to run others, and diligently supports and mentors the VEX teams in the area?

What if it helps start a dozen brand new VEX teams, or worse... convinces a dozen FTC teams to come over to VEX?

These types of deeds once formed pillars of a Chairman's Award (CA) application. They were actions that clearly demonstrated the spreading of FIRST. But now, I'm not so sure this is the case. Unsure enough that I question whether an FRC team should mention their involvement with VEX at all.

How would a CA judge perceive this?

Should it be looked down upon? If the FRC team did a good enough job at supporting VEX, it may cause serious harm to FIRST. You can't help spread FIRST by supporting something that could eliminate it.

Should it be unconditionally applauded? Maybe it shouldn't matter what program is used to inspire science and technology... even if it ends up hurting FIRST financially.

If you were a Regional Director, or Judge Adviser, or FIRST HQ would you explicitly instruct the judges on how to view VEX involvement?

Imagine if a team at one regional had their amazing VEX involvement "put them over the top" to win a CA, where another team at another regional was penalized for their involvement and barely lost out.

As a team with a solid chance at a CA and Hall of Fame, would you be reluctant to put VEX involvement on your application?

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Unread 06-26-2008, 05:10 PM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

In my own opinion, if a CA judge's and FIRST's goal is to promote science and technology in the world, it should not just be spreading the message of FIRST but also education in general. If your team is doing just that, then I see no reason why the judges should look away from giving your team the Chairman's award if you start VEX teams and not FTC teams. Their true judgment should only be based on 1) how much the community is impacted by your efforts and 2) how many students you spread STEM to (science technology engineering and math). The fact that you are starting more VEX teams should not effect a real judge's opinions about your team.

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Unread 06-26-2008, 05:21 PM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

FIRST shouldn't be about spreading FIRST. The ultimate goal of FIRST is to change the culture to one that appreciates science and technology and where careers in those fields are honored. Regardless of whether or not it's directly a FIRST program or not, teams should be applauded for their efforts to change the culture.
Part of the reason 842 won the Championship Chairman's this year, and the Championship Engineering Inspiration in 2005, was their involvement with other robotics programs (namely NURC).
I wouldn't worry about FIRST judges discriminating against the VEX (or other) competitions. Both teams I'm associated with have been involved with FTC for years, and both will be involved with IFI's Vex competition next year.
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Unread 06-26-2008, 05:46 PM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

I'll draw a parallel here to something we see often (and is often rewarded) in FRC: off-season events. I am willing to bet that there are several teams that skip an additional regional in favor of attending one or more off-season events. The work undertaken could conceivably trim some funds from FIRST, but it simultaneously makes gains towards FIRST's goals of changing the culture/inspiring/etc.

To that end, if your team feels that it is capable of executing a better program with Vex (or Legos, or balsa wood, or bellybutton lint) than with FTC, I'd encourage you to go with it. It would be deeply troubling for me if the judges decided to discount a more effective program solely because it isn't a FIRST program.
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Unread 06-26-2008, 06:35 PM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

I don't think that VEX is necessarily going to hurt a teams chances at a Chairman's Award and I don't think it should. Of course FIRST would love to see an FTC team over a VEX team. VEX, while different, is still inspiring kids to be engineers. That is ultimately FIRST's goal. If FIRST is truly in it for the kids, then it shouldn't matter if it's a VEX or FTC team.
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Unread 06-26-2008, 07:03 PM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

I would stand one hundred percent behind the school who chooses VEX over FTC, especially if they are very enthusiastic about it.

Remember, we are in FIRST for a reason, to inspire students into the fields of science and technology. While FIRST is a good vehicle towards these goals, it is not the only one.

The Chairman's Award, while nice, is a trophy and a banner. But the impacts from what it took to win that are eternal. As such, one should not worry about trying to do what it takes to win the award, but what action would best represent the goals of FIRST, which is inspiring students.

If supporting VEX is looked down upon by those judging the Chairman's Award, perhaps the judges themselves should take a step back and ask themselves what is more important: supporting a "brand name" or supporting the goals of that brand name?


And in the long run, if supporting VEX over FTC does somehow "hurt" FIRST, well then they just learned their first lesson of Capitalism 101 - letting the markets decide. If better programs exist elsewhere, the people will gravitate towards what they feel is the best program for their money. And as such, FIRST would have to explore ways of cutting costs and making their program better to remain "competitive" - actions which would only benefit the teams and people involved in the program.
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Unread 06-26-2008, 07:43 PM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

I would never be reluctant to put anything my team does in the Chairman's Essay. Just remember what FIRST literally means (For Inspiration etc.). Why does it matter if a team helps to spread the "message of FIRST" through a non-FIRST medium? From what I have heard, the VRC program seems to have a number of things going for it over FTC such as price, accessibility of parts, the existing stockpiles teams have of Vex, the wealth of knowledge and experience already out there that make this a great medium for teams to spread the appreciation of science and technology.

If a FIRST judge/adviser/etc. were to hypothetically not give a team the CA simly because of their affiliation with the Vex program, what does that say about the award in the first place? This is why I do not believe that this idea would ever happen. If it did, well...
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Unread 06-26-2008, 08:38 PM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

Inspire students.

The rest will unfold correctly.

Don't focus on winning a CA. Focus on inspiring students and changing the culture.

Be an excellent FIRST team - and then grab with both hands as many more opportunities as your members can.

Excellent organizations applaud the success of their peers, and adopt and adapt their peers' best practices. Excellent programs clebrate diversity. FIRST is an excellent program.

Author Gordon Livingston advises, that in interpersonal relationships, the person who cares the most about a relationship has the least control over how it evolves. If you agree that theory has can be applied in this circumstance, then you are faced to with a decision:

Do you want second-guess your team's actions, using pursuit of a CA as your metric; or do you want to set about the business of being an agent of change in your community, and let the CA come to you?

Either the FTC program or the VRC program can be an effective, powerful tool for changing your community. Pick the one that is right for your community, not the one that might or might not be right for a CA process that sometimes involves human fallibility.

Do the right thing, and if the CA is a useful measure of teams' successes (and it is), the CA will come to you.

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Unread 06-26-2008, 10:55 PM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

It would be nice if the judges would be unbiased and see it as students being involved in robotics, but that may not be the case. Let's face it, VEX will be more cost efficient then the new FTC kit and game, but for the loyalist out there, they will go to FTC. Teams who already have an array of VEX parts and may not have a lot of money, VEX will be the best option. I hope this would not be the deciding factor, since students are still being exposed to science and technology.
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Unread 06-27-2008, 01:31 AM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

No. While FIRST is trying to spread FIRST, its not the "big idea". After all, FIRST isn't about the robots, its about the culture change, and the building of tomorrow's leaders. While FIRST's programs are an excellent way to spread FIRST ideal's they certainly aren't the only way. For example, WPI runs Savage Soccer, a non-FIRST robotics competition, and they included in their 2007 write up, which netted them a regional Chairman's award. I can't speak for sure, but I'd imagine that some FRC teams are involved in BEST and similar competitions (which are more FTC scale), but I can't speak for absolute certainty.

What should be certain however, is that if involvement in any activity which furthers FIRST's message (and Vex is certainly does) is looked down upon, then the Chairman's Award message isn't what I've been led to believe. Are we here for the message? Or just for FIRST? As much as I love FIRST, I think the message is more important.



Quote:
Originally Posted by 2008 FRC Manual 5.4.1
The Chairmanís Award was created to keep the central focus of the FIRST Robotics Competition as our ultimate goal for transforming the culture in ways that will inspire greater levels of respect and honor for science and technology, as well as encourage more of todayís youth to become scientists, engineers, and technologists.
The overview of the Chairman's award specifically says the award is given to teams who go above and beyond in spreading FIRST's message, and says nothing about spreading FIRST itself.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 2008 FRC Manual 5.4.3.1
The Chairmanís Award is presented to the team judged to have created the best partnership effort among team participants and which best exemplified the true meaning of FIRST through measurable impact on its participants, school, and community at large. There is no single ďbest wayĒ for a team to win the Chairmanís Award. Many factors come into play. The primary factors the judges will evaluate are:

1) How strongly does the submission document the impact FIRST has on the learning experience of the students, school curriculum, engineers, and/or community during the 2007/2008 team year as well as in prior years?

2) Has the team explained/demonstrated why/how it should be a role model for other FIRST teams to emulate?

3) How well has the team communicated its excitement and impact within the entire school, community, and beyond (state/nation) through participation in FIRST during the 2007/2008 team year as well as in prior years?

4) Has the team documented an innovative way to spread the FIRST message?

5) How strong of a year-round team partnership effort is reflected during the 2007/2008-team year as well as in prior years? (You can define partnership in many ways, including: the partnership among the teamís students/corporate sponsor/engineers; school/university sponsor/engineers; students/adults; community/team)

6) As a whole, does the content of the documentation exemplify the true meaning of FIRST?
The above lists the bullets Chairman's award judges want you to hit. A few of them seem harder to hit, but really, I don't believe they are. I could see how you might think the first section would be against you, but I don't believe it is. You're spreading the message however you can, and FIRST should realize you're making a worthy endevour.

If FIRST takes offense to teams being as involved with Vex as they were with FTC, then they need to take a good long look at their own message.

But, I can't possibly see why they would look down on Vex involvement. If we're for the message, then it shouldn't matter, to us or FIRST, whose competition it is, as long as it pushes the message effectively.
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Unread 06-27-2008, 05:50 AM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

Quote:
Originally Posted by Beth Sweet View Post
I'm going to start out this thread by saying that if it turns into namecalling, it's going to get shut down. That being said, this fairly controversial topic has been raised, and I think the CD community may benefit from the discussion.

This poster worries about the ramifications of choosing Vex over FTC. He/she is concerned that if his/her team participates in Vex, that judges may look at it as a slap in the face. What thoughts and/or advice do you have for this questioning FIRSTer?

-------------------------------------------------------------

We all know that FRC teams have supported FTC teams and run tournaments in the past. In schools that have both FRC and FTC, the programs are invariably tied together. When competing, FTC teams usually "represent" their bigger FRC siblings. They are joined at the hip.

This summer, many FRC teams will have the choice between FTC and VEX for their smaller siblings, and it certainly isn't an easy one. Some teams will migrate to FTC's new kit, some will stay with the VEX platform. Whichever program is chosen, there is no doubt that the parent FRC team will support the sibling program with continued fervor.

But,

What if the school chooses VEX?

What if the school tries to grow VEX with the same effort it did with FTC?

What if it runs a VEX tournament in their school, provides countless volunteers to run others, and diligently supports and mentors the VEX teams in the area?

What if it helps start a dozen brand new VEX teams, or worse... convinces a dozen FTC teams to come over to VEX?

These types of deeds once formed pillars of a Chairman's Award (CA) application. They were actions that clearly demonstrated the spreading of FIRST. But now, I'm not so sure this is the case. Unsure enough that I question whether an FRC team should mention their involvement with VEX at all.

How would a CA judge perceive this?

Should it be looked down upon? If the FRC team did a good enough job at supporting VEX, it may cause serious harm to FIRST. You can't help spread FIRST by supporting something that could eliminate it.

Should it be unconditionally applauded? Maybe it shouldn't matter what program is used to inspire science and technology... even if it ends up hurting FIRST financially.

If you were a Regional Director, or Judge Adviser, or FIRST HQ would you explicitly instruct the judges on how to view VEX involvement?

Imagine if a team at one regional had their amazing VEX involvement "put them over the top" to win a CA, where another team at another regional was penalized for their involvement and barely lost out.

As a team with a solid chance at a CA and Hall of Fame, would you be reluctant to put VEX involvement on your application?

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FIRST-a-holic Anonymous mailbox is a place to share your concern and frustration about your FIRST experience anonymously. It is the perfect place if you just want someone to listen, or ask for advice when you donít know what to do. Submit your letters today at the FIRST-a-holic anonymous mailbox forum. If you wish to respond to this thread anonymously, please PM Beth or Bharat (taking a short vacation, PM Beth if possible please!) with your response and thread title.
I have never been a CA judge, but I would think if you chose to nurture the Vex program in your area you could mention it, just as you might mention being involved with one of the other robotics programs (or any other program that encourages youth to explore STEM areas). I wouldn't necessarily focus on it, though.

And I don't think supporting another robotics program is going to eliminate FIRST. Many FIRST teams also participate in other programs. I think there is a place for all to co-exist, based on the needs and desires of its participants. I would encourage your team to work with your local FIRST representatives (Regional Director, etc.) to see what the development plan is for your area and see how your plans can fit in.
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Unread 06-27-2008, 09:15 AM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

Wow, what an interesting topic.

I have one big thought on this topic. It is a sad state when teams worry more about how they stand with the chairman's award than they worry what is best for their team and students.

That brings up a much larger subject that really grates on me. I really dislike when teams do stuff just to make their chairman's resume look good. You should do things because you believe in them, not to bolster your chances at winning some silly award.

Do what's best for your team and your students. Who cares what the CA judges think. And if they think less of your team for choosing VEX, then the chairman's award loses all of its meaning in my book.
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Unread 06-27-2008, 09:38 AM
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

Beth, thank you for posting this for us. I want to present another perspective as a case study into what I see going into this decision, as well as present 1885's experience with awards (albeit a subjective view I suppose). In addition, I want to say that it is my opinion that a team shouldnít let a FIRST award, even national Chairmanís, drive their community involvement.

FTC vs VEX
The FTC/VEX decision has been on the entire county tech. board's minds since April and it's one that they don't know if they have all of the information to facilitate a proper discussion. I agree that it really is a tough decision. The county has actively funded a VEX-based curriculum in 11 middle schools and nearly every high school over the last two years. Due to funding and logistics of trips, they could only support 8 FTC registered high school teams in '07-'08.

As a mentor, I see that they have some options, and while some may view them as retrogressive we view them as progressive in the long term. After all in a budget shortfall the county found a way to add additional funding ($10's of k's) specifically for robotics in the '08-'09 school year. The only constant between the options is that for this coming year, our team and the county will probably cut back on the quantity of FTC teams until we further grow the overall technology curriculum. Right now we just canít justify not using all of the VEX parts weíve purchased and some of the funding needs to continue to support the VEX platform (broken motors, batteries, etc) as we transition to FTC. Regardless of its appearance to judges or the impact it will have on awards we win, this will probably happen.

Awards
Do FIRST judges look down on non-FIRST events when considering a team for an award? At regionals, they haven't in the past. Actually, the non-FIRST activities have greatly supplemented how teams have grown FIRST. In '06, '07, and '08 at the 6 regionals we attended the chairman's winners almost always had more involvement and impact in their community than just a FIRST-based involvement. However, don't get me wrong; the teams that won CA/EI also supported the growth of FIRST in one aspect or another.

In 1885's case, we created an underwater ROV curriculum that the county adopted for its 10 high schools (~550 students went through the class). From the classroom, we fielded 40 robots and held a local competition in April. After successfully managing the FIRST season and the SEAPerch competition concurrently, the county decided they want both. The educational benefit to cost ratio was astronomical when compared to FRC, and it has the ability to reach more students (on the order of two magnitudes more) because of it. However there isn't a program alive that can beat the quality of smaller, more intense groups in FTC and FRC (and NURC tbh), which the county also recognizes.

While the FIRST judges at our regionals enjoyed listening to us describe what we're doing with uROVs, they also wanted to know how we've grown FIRST and how we've tied FIRST to our community. In our presentation to the judges we showed how the concept of the SEAPerch curriculum is to get large numbers of freshmen students involved in technology very quickly within the county's budget, and in later years (Soph/Jr/Sr) get as many as we could handle involved in FTC & FRC.

My own thoughts (not necessarily 1885's or the county's)
For our efforts we won VCU Engineering Inspiration in '08, and we will continue to grow the overall technology involvement in the schools in '09. The conclusion I drew at the end of the FRC & SEAPerch seasons was that even if 1885 doesn't win another FIRST award, the students in our county will still come out winners because of the impact 1885 and its leadership, mentors, and students have had. The enrollment in the sophomore level of IT/Tech courses is up over 200% county-wide for the '08-'09 school year, which will lead to greater growth for FIRST anyways. Some students want to compete in FRC, and some students want to do a smaller-scope program (either another SEAPerch bot or FTC) so they may also do other school activities such as sports or other clubs. In the greater perspective of things, it really makes the immediate FTC/VEX decision we face seem moot for a moment because either way weíre making progress.

At the end of the day, it really isnít about the awards.
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Re: FAHA: The Effects of Vex

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Hibner View Post
Wow, what an interesting topic.

I have one big thought on this topic. It is a sad state when teams worry more about how they stand with the chairman's award than they worry what is best for their team and students.

That brings up a much larger subject that really grates on me. I really dislike when teams do stuff just to make their chairman's resume look good. You should do things because you believe in them, not to bolster your chances at winning some silly award.

Do what's best for your team and your students. Who cares what the CA judges think. And if they think less of your team for choosing VEX, then the chairman's award loses all of its meaning in my book.

Chris, I think you may have interpreted the question differently than I did. The team in question seemed committed in their resolve to the Vex program, and felt that Vex was the best option. It seemed like they were going to go with Vex for their students regardless of whether or not the judge's liked it. I think they were asking about should they list it in their Chairman's Award entry, as it may hurt their chances.
I too dislike it when activities are mainly focused on winning a Chairman's Award rather than actually inspiring. And while winning isn't the real point of Chairman's, award entries should be structured in a way that gives your team the best chance to win. Just like FIRST is ultimately about more than just the robots, the competition aspect shouldn't be sacrificed, neither should "competitive entries" to the Chairman's Award. Team's have to pick and chose carefully what they feel will be most impressive to the judges to share with them, and sometimes have to leave out certain high-impact events/programs.
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