[FTC]: Engineering Notebook - PR and Electronic

Hi,
I have a question: is the engineering notebook strictly limited to building and programming, or can/should we include all the PR stuff we do and have seperate entries for days where all we do is PR and fundraising?

Also can people post links to electronic engineering notebooks? We are thinking of using that this year, but want to see some examples first! Do judges think of them less highly because they look “perfect” when printed and aren’t ripped and dirty (you know what I mean)!

Thanks!

PR should definately be included in the engineering notebook. Documenting what you have done helps the judges consider your team for awards like the inspire award. Document everything that demonstrates your support of the goals of First.

Jim

So you would say that it is OK to make completely separate entries on days we only work on PR?

#1 Read the evaluation criteria - Make the material you record and the way you use it match the eval criteria.

I tell students and judges not to think of any notes, “engineering” or otherwise, as diaries. Telling students to record info that is never used again (except by a judge) is very close to training them to waste time.

I instead urge both creators and reviewers to remember that notes are a tool. For that reason the later sections of a useful notebook should contain evidence of referring to the early sections.

STEM Robotics engineering usually involve a certain amount of intellectually messy iteration. similarly, community outreach and PR activities should be compared to past successes and failures to improve their effectiveness.

Paper or electronic notes are how you do a good job of recording the past so that you can compare it to the present.

So, if I am a judge, a messy notebook that is full of examples of real use; win hands-down over a pristine notebook that is simply a diary. My guess is that ensuring your notebook is one of the team’s tools will implicitly answer both of your original questions.

I will also appreciate finding a table of contents in the first couple of pages, and/or finding tabs or post-it note types of flags that lead me to specific important sections.

Blake

We put most everything in the notebook, like community service, tours, events (like helping with local FLL events), ect. The main things we put in is our first drawings, prototypes, and how we got to our finished product, this year we will have a picture book of our prototypes instead of bringing one or two of them into judging. Another thing is to put page markers/tabs into the engineering notebook to mark the more important pages/the pages you want the judges to see most. Hope that helped, good luck teams.
~4240 Techno Clovers

I’ll also add that there’s no way to submit an electronic notebook. A few years ago one of our teams created their entire engineering notebook in Microsoft OneNote using someone’s 13" HP tablet PC. It looked gorgeous and had alot of great pictures/info/diagrams in it. However, much of it was lost in translation to paper since that part was done in a rush.

Yeah that’s a very good point, just for an example we buy a real engineering notebook, hand write everything, explain in detail from how we thought of it to how the prototype worked and why we used/didn’t use it on our robot. We put a lot of photos in it along with everything else I said earlier in the thread. We (the team members) don’t like doing it but it needs to be done and the judges are normally impressed.

Here is a thought - A notebook that is full of so much non-technical material that the applied physics, strategy analysis, software design, and other engineering topics get lost in the clutter; might be at a disadvantage during the judging process.

Always go back to the criteria the judges are asked to use to evaluate the submission; satisfy them well; and then trust the judges to stick to using those criteria.

If a team has a fundraising car wash (or whatever), that is an excellent source for things to tell judges aloud, or through other means (such as a second notebook/diary); but I don’t see a reason for it to appear in an “engineering” notebook. There is a reason the engineering notebooks aren’t called “Team Diaries”.

Blake

I’d have to disagree with that, this past year we put together a “business plan” of how we will get money for the team. It consists of how we do fundraising, sponsorship’s, ect. We have budget like real engineers do, which shows that we have a plan and know how much fundraising we need to do for the robot, competition, ect. It isn’t smart to start a project and run out on money half way though, and I think its good to show that in the “Engineering Notebook”. Last year was the first year we did that, and doing it gives an idea of what you’l need to do when starting any project that requires money. This process in my mind gives good experience, and I think every team should do it.

Hope that helped ~Derrick

Derrick, if that’s the way the engineering notebooks wins in FTC, then the engineering notebook isn’t what the award should be named. Engineering Notebooks, in general, are about how to build a product and not how to run a company.

It’s perfectly normal to speak about cost relative to a budget in terms of why certain design decisions were made, but the reality is that cost is always relative to the immediate whims of the market; the engineering notebook is meant to persist well past that. To add too much information about cost to an engineering notebook is to blur the design behind the product that was developed – something that may create confusion when a third party looks at the notebook.

Just keep this in mind when moving on to college. A professor doesn’t care about the details of how you funded your genius idea nearly as much as he/she cares about how it works and why you made various decisions. If they do care, then perhaps they’re teaching the wrong subject. If you do this in your career, then a business case can be built around your product as it applies to the current market and not the market you [shouldn’t be speaking of] spoke of in the book.

Ambrose Lewis used to remind me that budgets and schedules are work that is about developing software, but isn’t developing software. He used the word “about” in the sense that those topics have something to do with developing software in a business setting, not in the sense that they are “almost” or “approximately” developing software.

Ambrose developed software and let other people take care of the things that were “about” developing software.

My suggestion is recording business plans and decisions in in one location/medium, and recording engineering (applied math & physics) in a different location/medium. There is no prohibition on submiting multiple notebooks/records in a stack held together by a big rubber band if you care to (and written evidence is useful for confirming that a team has earned an Inspire award.)

Remember that people whose core skill set is (or began as) engineering do (and get paid for) many things (giving tours, for example) but that doesn’t make everything they do “Engineering”.

Blake

My point about the “Business plan” is

1: That it gives you an idea of how much fundraising/money the team needs to make to be able to go to competition/robot and other expenses.

2: If you put the work into it why wouldn’t you take a page of the notebook to put it in (not put it all throughout to confuse people).

3: if you are doing a project by your self or with a small group, and you have say $1,000 dollars. You start building and part way through you find it costs way more then you expected (like $25,000 for everything), well the project is half build and you are out of money. It becomes to late that you can’t make enough by the dead line and your project just sits and collects dust (and you are out $1000). That’s just an example, all I am saying it is helpful to do it. Every time I go on the highway I see a half built building that has been there for 20 or so years. The person started building and ran out of money so there it stands (just an example I see a lot).

4: For projects i’m getting into the habit of doing that just because I don’t want to start and not be able to finish, I see the point that in collage they wont really care but if I am doing a project just for fun its a good habit to get into. Just a note, this is a very, very small part of what our team does and its mostly because we created what we call “the SuGO project” (www.sugobot.com) which is “Sumo Lego robots”, the website will give more info. Since we are selling the kits and parts we use it.

BOTTOM LINE: Making the “Business plan” is a small part of our team to give us a better view of how much fundraising we need to do. We put it in the “Engineering notebook”. It earns us no special award in the competition but is a good experience for the team members. If you wish to discuss this further please feel free to message me but don’t just post on this thread because its about giving ideas of how to make a better engineering notebook, save the comments for a message, not a thread, Thanks.

Feel free to message me, I would be happy to answer questions/discuss FTC or what my/your team does. ~Derrick

Derrick,

I am giving you and all other readers my opinions about how to create better Engineering Notebooks.

I am occasionally a judge for robotics competitions. For that reason I like to give teams my perspective and the reasoning behind it. I just reread the FTC Game Manual rules about creating and judging Engineering Notebooks. What I read reinforced that my judging approach is correct for FTC’s Think Award.

As a judge, I would not consciously penalize a team for putting a moderate amount of extra material in their Engineering notebook, so long as I could still find the evidence that the notebook was truly an engineering tool (not just a diary); but every piece of superfluous information would distract me as I tried to find the pertinent information, and would (subconsciously at least) make any engineering information omissions more troubling.

1st Bottom Line: From a Think Award standpoint, you make a better engineering notebook by better satisfying the requirements outlined in the Game Manual.

2nd Bottom Line: I agree that every FTC project plan should include a budget, and a few other items.

Blake

Blake,

In the manual it says “The Engineering Notebook is also a good place to discuss and show team activities that are done throughout the team’s season. These activities can be placed in a separate section of the Engineering Notebook or chronologically within the design pages.”

To me that means if say we went to an Engineering facility for tour to get ideas of what we could use in the robots design, or the vast amount of community service the team does, it shouldn’t just be thrown away or confuse people by have three or four notebooks.

The manual says “Document EVERYTHING!!”, not throw out everything but prototypes, CAD, building process and programming, ect. Connect Award (first sentence): “This award is given to the team that most connected with their local community and the engineering community”, if you leave out what I said earlier then how will the judges know you did anything at all for the community or reached out to engineering company’s, there is more then enough space in the engineering notebook for a small section about community service, ect. It is also a lot easier to keep track of one notebook apposed to two or three.

The team’s notebook isn’t perfect and it doesn’t need to be, in my mind it just needs to get the information over to the judges of how we went through our whole year (so far) as a team, the team spends a lot of time on the engineering notebook documenting everything, not only to be eligible for awards but it is also very good for past references and is a nice reminder of the past year.

We document everything, but that is just my team. If your team wants to only document specific things its up to you, every team is different and like a team there is no robot/notebook alike, which is the great thing about FTC is there is so much creativity. Write the engineering notebook the way it seems fit for your team or however you want, but the best thing to do is read the game manual (section 5 for the engineering notebook).

~Derrick

Derrick,

I’m not writing about your team, I’m writing to any team.

There is no doubt that the Game Manual includes these words:

  1. The Engineering Notebook is also a good place to discuss and show team activities that are done throughout the team’s season. These activities can be placed in a separate section of the Engineering Notebook or chronologically within the design pages.

So, I think we agree that putting non-engineering material in a section of the notebook that is clearly separated from the Engineering material is one good option. Notice that this item doesn’t say that the Engineering Notebook is the best place for the non-engineering material; and also notice that the other items in the list discuss putting engineering material into the Engineering Notebook; and also notice that the Think Award criteria (and other “engineering” awards that use the notebook) ignore the non-engineering material (so be careful not to let it get in the way of the engineering material).

That game manual item quoted above is the 12th item in a list of 13 items that appear under this heading:

The FIRST Tech Challenge Engineering Notebook is a complete documentation of your team’s Robot design. This documentation should include sketches, discussions and team meetings, design evolution, processes, the “Aha’s!”, obstacles, and each team member’s thoughts throughout the journey for the entire season. A new notebook should be created for each new season. So here are the guidelines:

The “Document everything” admonition also appears under that heading. It’s pretty clear that teams are admonished to document everything that is “engineering”, and it is less clear that they are admonished to document all non-engineering activities/information too. In particular the Think Award asks judges to use teams’ Engineering Notebooks to evaluate engineering materials, not non-engineering materials. I don’t think any other award criteria ask the judges to use the Engineering Notebook as a source of anything other than engineering information.

No one said to throw out anything. A couple of people did recommend putting engineering into Engineering Notebooks, and recording/submitting other information elsewhere.

I believe Awards like the Connect Award are judged using information gained during interviews and perhaps by referring to simple printed material given to judges during interviews. I don’t think the Connect and similar awards are expected to be based on information judges have to find in the Engineering Notebook.

Judges have very little time to spend on any single team or topic, when looking for evidence to back up a team’s assertion or a judge’s assessment. Based on years of professional experience, and on recent similar experiences in STEM robotics judging, I’ll assure you that it is far easier to have simple separate submissions from a team about how they satisfied engineering and non-engineering awards’ criteria, than it is to have one integrated submission that puts everything in chronological order. A single submission that contains separate sections for each information category is a compromise, but it can not be simultaneously used/shared by separate groups of judges.

Trust me, judges are smart enough not to become confused by clearly labeled, separate documents/submissions.

You and your colleagues are obviously proud of how you choose to organize your team’s records. I’m glad about that; and I have no doubt that each one makes a nice momento for the teams archives.

However, when giving other teams advice about how to make their Engineering notebooks better, I recommend being careful to explain that your advice might be more about how to make a better Season Diary (that happens to be in the Engineering Notebook); than it is about creating an Engineering Notebook that better satisfies the central thrust of the Engineering Notebook Guidelines and Think Award Criteria, and is consequently easily evaluated against those criteria. Those two subjects overlap; but they are not the same. Everyone involved in the process of advising others has a duty to be clear about those sorts of differences.

Blake

If you read my first post “The main things we put in is our first drawings, prototypes, and how we got to our finished product, this year we will have a picture book of our prototypes instead of bringing one or two of them into judging. Another thing is to put page markers/tabs into the engineering notebook to mark the more important pages/the pages you want the judges to see most.” Also I posted what has worked for us in FTC, and what I thought would be helpful to other teams. The reason I am on “chiefdelphi” in the first place is to help answer questions and help teams.

Sounds good - You may have the last word - Between the two of us and the other comments, teams should have a good set of opinions to chew on.

It was good to see you guys at St Louis last year - Best of luck this season!

Blake

I agree, and good luck this season!!! I bet we will see some crazy designs this year (or at lest I hope so).

Excellent discussion on the notebook. We have a new (third) team this year; I’m not sure they have as good a grip on the notebook as the other two teams we mentor have.

Thanks SO much for the enlightened discussion!

I agree!!!

To Derrick… You Rock!!!

Not so much because I totally agree with all your points, but because I LOVE the passion and clarity with which you presented them. You’ve come a LONG way buddy!!!

My own point of view…

Our team’s Engineering Notebooks could afford to have MORE Engineering in them… Some more calculations, analysis, testing, results and projections. No question.

Having said that, if a team is not comfortable/able/ready for that, then there is still a LOT of value recording all that other usefull stuff (Photo record of designs, field trips, business plans, community outreach) just because these are all things that an excellent Engineer should be concerned with.

Too many Engineers (like myself) are not prepared to transition from Basic Engineering to Project Management or Starting their own Businesses because they did not get any training in the Use and Business application of their basic craft.

Does a Engineering Notebook stuffed with other related information stand up as a “pure example” of what an Engineer should produce while doing Engineering? No. But is it a great exercise in Product development? Sure is…

So…

Will it guarentee a Think Award win? Maybe not. But is it a valuable outcome of the FTC program? I think so.

In our own experience (at regional competitions anyway) the Judges tend to see that. At the national level the competitionn is much tougher, so the more “Pure” Engineering Notebooks seem to do better.

Phil.