How do I turn a relatively unexperienced robotics team into an experienced one?

It’s my team’s second year in the competition but a lot of our members are unexperienced when it comes to mechanical, programming, etc. What should I do to get them to gain some skills in these areas?

Should I host workshops or should I just tell them to learn java or fusion 360?

Just telling them is… well could lead to them not being motivated to learn or slack off.

Hosting workshops allows people to come and learn, ask questions, and sometimes get hand on experience that is useful. If you can run the workshops the better, but bringing in professionals could also be even better.

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Should I host enough workshops for them to get the gist of programming, CAD, etc. Or should I do a lot of workshops until they feel like they are experienced?

Well, experience comes with time, so the question is do you want to spend lots of time trying to give them as much experience as possible, or do you want to give them the general gist of things so they can get a robot that works? The more you do will definitely help the team, but how much of your and their time, and time left before build season can you use to give the experience?

We are going into our fourth year and the last 6 months this question has been going around a lot. We had the founding team members graduate after the 2018 season and they took a lot of knowledge with them. We have formulated a “plan of attack” that we hope will give a lot of benefit. We are still working on getting this going all the way but it is what we are working towards:

All team departments are trying to document their knowledge into manuals. For example, the build team is working on a build manual. It is currently more than 55 pages long and still has a ton of development to be done. The idea behind these manuals is to start with the most basic levels of knowledge and then show how those things come together. (Things as basic as explaining what bearings are to strategic design and operating a CNC).

The next thing we do is weekly meetings in the off-season to train new people and spread knowledge between current team members. We had alumni and current team members present on how they do things that they have been in charge of. Classes like this included CAD, mock kickoffs, getting our new CNC running, putting neos into an old robot, teaching basic hand tools etc. something to note: when things were hands on people definitely learned more. Next year we are probably going to try to be more hands on.

Overall, any way you can transfer knowledge the more your team will benefit.

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This doesn’t help with your question, though. Technical capabilities ≠ experienced FRC team. The only way to go from being an inexperienced team to an experienced one (and you’re not going to like this answer) is experience. You can go from an unprepared team to a prepared team through technical training, sure. But until the team attends competitions (spectating or competing), they will not be “experienced.”

If your goal is just increase technical knowledge on the team in an effort to position yourself better for the season, then by all means provide technical training. You might consider searching this forum and elsewhere on the internet for teams’ training materials and checklists which teams made to ensure basic skills across their new members.

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@ADA1, what area of the country/world is your team located in? I’m fairly sure a veteran team relatively close to you would be willing to offer some training and experience, but they would need to know where you’re at to find you.

If your area has a FIRST Senior Mentor, or a Regional Director, those people may be helpful in getting you in contact with those teams.

The most proven way for teams to go from inexperienced to experienced is time and a stable mentor base. I’ve found that no matter what efforts you undertake to speed up the learning curve, you’re still going to learn the most from your real life failures and successes.

One effective way I’ve seen teams grow their knowledge base is by learning from other teams. If there are any FRC training sessions run in your area then I highly recommend signing up for them. Nothing beats actual experience, but learning from others, and being exposed to their experiences is the next best thing.

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As a mentor on a team that is becoming more experienced, I’ve been around to see almost two full cycles of students go by. In those years, the team has gathered a reasonable amount of wisdom. Unfortunately, that wisdom is locked in the minds of aging mentors who can’t remember what they had for dinner the night before, let alone what caused that overheating drive bearing 3 years ago. So this year I decided to look seriously at some sort of team Wiki so we can start collecting that wisdom. Hopefully that will help preserve the wisdom so that at the very least, the aging mentors can remind themselves of lessons-learned and pass them on to the next cycle of students.

I have nothing more to add than repeating what has already been said:

A stable team of mentors is your best option for creating a better team. They must have a shared vision of practice and culture.

They must embrace FIRST’s core value of gracious professionalism.

Workshops, required reading, etc. will only be effective if the mentors reinforce those practices.

Once your team is in place, then begin to explore the best method for teaching your team.

Only your highest motivated members will learn on their own.

The other members will see outside reading as “something to do later” – or believe that you’ll tell them what is important rather than reading it themselves.

Workshops only seem to pique interest, but really do little to expand knowledge. Unless your workshops are part of a continuing education program, they won’t increase your members understanding & usage of the topic.

I wish that I could say that we’ve implemented this wonderful program of mini-courses for members; making them more proficient in their varied tasks – we haven’t. Finding enough mentors to work in the shop/lab with students AND having instructors to work with beginners is difficult.

In reality, we still do the pair and share practice - pairing a rookie with a returning member and hoping that the returning member share their knowledge.

If you let the students learn for themselves how to be successful, what do you do when they leave?
If you let the mentors hold on to what they learned, what do you do when they leave?

We’ve gone through both of these within the last two years.

There are two answers to your question.

Keep your knowledge, especially failures, written down. What not to do is just as, if not more important, than knowing what to do.

The second thing you should do is use the knowledge you have learned to build your teams’ training curriculum. Think of this as your off season or even pre season time to get the new students and mentors up to a level where they can contribute.

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The only way to gain experience is to try new things.

Shoot for the stars, and try to outdo yourself every year

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Dang…he called us out!

As a mentor getting ready for my 15th season, and the only person who’s been with the team more than 4 years, I have got used to watching our team relearn the same lessons over and over.

I was going to post yesterday that the only way to gain experience is to have experiences. Others have already said that, so it would be redundant. But it’s still true.

Have fun, don’t worry too much about it, the experience is what we’re here for. Failures, and all.

We have found that students respond best when being taught by other students or other near-peer figures (such as recent alumni of the team or members of other teams). Unfortunately, as a second year team, you have not built up enough expertise amongst the students on your own team to be able to have those students teach the newer students.

As others have indicated, the workshops need to be fun and engaging to have the most impact. When the students ran our CAD camp a couple years ago, they ended the camp with a “CADwood Derby” where the students were given LEGO wheels and axles and had to CAD a car that fit with those parts. We then 3D printed their cars and had an actual race to close out the camp. It was very fun and the students were challenged to put the stuff they had learned into a real design with an open-ended solution and real constraints.

Given that we are at the end of November, you don’t have a lot of time for training camps, workshops or whatever, but there is the F4 CADathon coming up before kickoff. The CADathon is a great way to practice your design process (how you come up with a design to meet the game objectives). Even if you don’t get a CAD model completed within the 3 day timeline that they give you for an actual submission, you will still learn a lot as a team and you can keep working on your design past the deadline and have your own internal critique of the design. It doesn’t need to be CAD either (if you are not making an actual submission). You could have the students create a design in whatever format you are able to (pencil and paper, or white board, or MS Draw). I highly encourage you to take advantage of it. If you have some students who have basic CAD experience and want to challenge themselves to take it to the next level, this is their chance before kickoff. If you are able to run a CAD training session prior to the CADathon, all the better.

In addition to what’s already been said, I think the best way to accelerate the process is to do a significant project in the off-season. It’s probably too late to do a whole lot this year, but maybe next year. Creating a new scoring mechanism for last year’s bot, building a brand-new but simpler bot (for something like the town Christmas parade), building a smaller robot (like FTC-sized), building a T-shirt shooter, etc. What you choose will depend on your team’s resources and how many hours you’re all willing to put in in the off-season, but doing some kind of “real” project is often much more effective at building useful skills than workshops (and more engaging too).

It’s definitely true that the only way to gain experience is to have experiences. But compared to just doing some workshops in the fall, a significant fall project has the potential to give your team 2 years of experience per year.

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It would be best if the students learn to learn from anyone, regardless of age. Many of the people who can provide of knowledge of use to the team are not student aged.

The best way ever to get people to care, is to get hands on. Having students disassemble and reassemble an intake with a cad drawing in front of them gets so much better experience when designing. Once kids feel comfortable using cad and building, they get more comfortable designing and get more interested in robotics. Then from that they evolve to people that elevate your teams success.

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