How to get freshman interested in robotics

#1

Our team has had issues with people who join even as freshman only for the sake of writing off robotics on college apps. We had to deal with them being on their phones and had to ask them numerous times to stop. My idea this year is to assign everyone a pocket with goggles and an ID card and tell them that they need to place their phone there for the remainder of the meeting (with the volume all the way up of course incase anyone contacts them). We have over 40 members but sadly only a few members(4-5) work on a daily basis. We try to keep the club less informal and only led by students but Is mentor interference the only way we can improve this? The problem also stems from students not showing up everyday and its very difficult to teach kids as well. For example a kid showed up week 2 and then week 5 and said “wow the robots almost done.” Is making mandatory hours the only way to boost up the students attendance?

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#2

We set a mandatory number of season hours to be eligible to attend events with the team which helps a lot, but getting 100% involvement is still pretty difficult.

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#3

Similar to what AgentSmith suggested, our team hands out drive team and plum roles based on team involvement in pre-season when we do recycling drives etc to raise money, as well as attendance at the game release strategizing and concept meetings and of course being present during build season.

If the individual didn’t put in the required amount of hours, they’re removed from team communications I believe, so they’d have to make their own arrangements to go to any kind of event.

This is spelled out right from the start of the school year so there can be nobody who claims they didn’t know later on. It tends to separate the hangers on from the kids who are truly involved because they want to be a part of the team and help it to succeed.

We have a freshman who does every odd job available and is around almost every practice session. A lot of times he’s purely vacuuming up the shredded plywood! I’m sure next year he’ll be offered a role with more responsibility as he has shown commitment.

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#4

One of the “tactics” we are going to try this year is getting them during the end of 8th grade and the summer before freshman year. A lot of students in our school decide not to join robotics because they don’t want to be “that kid in robotics” (believe it or not). We think by getting them involved prior to beginning HS they will be more likely to stick around despite what their friends think.

To do this we are holding meetings prior to the summer as well as a day camp for new and old members and giving them a chance to drive kitbots, build VEX robots, and learn about FRC in general.

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#5

The more work a member puts in, the more they get in return. Being on the team and not being able to talk about what or how you contributed to the software, mechanical or electrical system, scouting, or business will do you no good in interviews and essays.

Those who contribute and work have invaluable experience to talk about.

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#6

The more you get people interested in the off season, the more they’ll do during build season. There’s also a reality that teenagers often forget to communicate minor issues like “I have a conflict for half of build season”.

One of the biggest indicators of youth involvement in any activity is parental involvement. If parents are invested (they don’t have to be there every day or anything), then it ensures the kids are more likely to be there, because even just a minor prodding of “Hey, dude, get ready for robotics” is helpful. It’s easy to think freshmen should be self-motivated, but build season’s timing is right after the lull of Thanksgiving / Finals / Winter Break.

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#7

Our team bases student position and authority based on their time commitment. Our team has max of about 20 kids, but similar to your situation, only about 7 come around daily. When i was a freshman (last year) i was immediately interested in driving and proved myself at an early time, taking over a senior’s position as driver. Since then, i go to the meetings as much as possible, which has brought me up to a higher position on the team. We also have some kids who just come around to hang out and not really do much. Our team is very informal, so we don’t really do too much about it, unless they start distracting and bringing down our hard-working members. People like that usually get stuck making buttons or some other tedious task. My coach is always willing to include and teach members, as long as their willing to listen and participate.

Ngl, i was this kid after 8th grade as well, so this makes total sense to me. I think the trick to stuff like this is to not only advertise the club (or whatever it is for your school) as robotics, but let people know that there is a lot more involved. Going back to that quote, i thought robotics really just meant building a robot and programming it for fun. Even though i was in FLL in 8th grade, i had no interest in continuing into the higher levels of FIRST.

You have to advertise it in a way that appeals to more than just the “nerdy” kids.

Then i heard more about it and about how i could do CAD, and drive, and do artwork for the team, and it became a lot more appealing to me. I think the trick is to really let people know that it really isn’t just robots (cheesy, but true). There a business side, art, writing, planning, CAD. Its a lot more than just building a robot, and that needs to be seen; not only in your school, but mine, and everywhere.

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#8

Bingo. And this opens up recruitment possibilities. You can recruit from business, art, photography, digital animation classes just as much as engineering.

“Look, if you never want to touch a robot, fine. You can design a working business plan if you want. Help with digital animations. Just do CAD drawings. Just want to do community service? Have we got a club for you! And later you want to help with the robot, woohoo!”

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#9

Great ideas! Fortunately our school has a few things going for it:

  • large enough that it has a sizeable nerd subclass anyways
  • team is successful enough that it’s hard to belittle their accomplishments

This pretty much lets team members hang out together and largely ignore the anyone that would mock their robotics activities, plus they get to go on cool trips that some others do not.

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#10

We run our team as a class throughout the entire year (where they receive school credit) and an extracurricular activity during the build season. It’s always a struggle engaging every student, especially the freshman. There are a few every year that do surprise us, and take some major roles. For example, we had a freshman pretty much run and cut most of our parts out on a CNC this semester. We find that they normally come out of their shell sophomore year. Our seniors also do a great job mentoring them throughout the year, which always helps. Definitely a struggle with 75 kids on the team though.

I am curious how other teams work with their freshman/sophomore groups.

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#11

I think going to off season comps that are around the beginning of the year will help motivate them for the possibilities of what they can accomplish. Before the comp improve your bot based on what you learned in the comp season (good training tool too) and encourage your new students to scout the other teams and figure out how their mechanisms work

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#12

If you’re needing to go on the cheap, round up some local teams at a team that has a full practice field, and do a day of scrimmaging in the fall, so new members get a feel of things.

#13

Same here. My team set a maximum amount of hours to be allowed to go to competitions. We also had a maximum amount of community service hours because in previous years we’ve been seeing the same people going to ALL of the community service opportunities.

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#14

I recommend not talking about this stuff too much. Freshmen don’t usually think far enough ahead to worry about ‘interviews’ and ‘college apps’ and stuff like that. They don’t typically care about how much they contributed until it’s too late. They care about stuff that is fun and visible. Sure, some students will want to join something that is a resume builder, but most will want to join something that is interesting and enjoyable.

Recruiting is an active process, it can never be passive. I recommend assigning a small subteam in charge of recruiting in the fall (make sure at least 1 teacher/mentor is on this team, they will help make sure you can attend school events and talk with the school admin). Also, have a quantitative way of measuring their progress (Ex. How do you really “count” how many people are on the team?), and make sure you all are visible in and around your school. Get your robot out of the build space and into the eyes of the students!

Recruiting is only half the battle, though. Make sure your retention is also an active process. Once the season starts, switch the ‘recruiting’ subteam into a ‘retention’ subteam. If you don’t see a member show up for a week, reach out to them and ask them how it’s going (especially helpful if the student isn’t communicating well with the rest of the team). Make sure you reward people who stay on the team consistently. This could be things like random pizza parties, or setting hour-limits for those who want to go to competition (Ex. You have to invest 100 hours during build season to go to competition).

Also, if students aren’t doing anything on the team (during off-season or build season), they won’t stick around. Make sure you have something for them to do. Simple things like “Do this CAD exercise” (for a mechanical student) or “Find your top 3 favorite chairmans videos” (for a marketing student) can be great tasks for students to work on, while you focus on something else.

Source: I run a Solar Car team at my university, and so recruiting/retention is like 65% of my job.

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#15

So, we do a Fall event with another team (about 1 hr from us) pretty much after freshmen recruitment. We have robot games and a social. The point is to quickly show the new students that there is a larger community around and students like them in the program elsewhere. Also, the older members get to discuss ideas with their counterparts. And we get to see a few robots going all together and have younger students drive if they so choose. I think it has helped with retention.

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#16

How do you get more parental involvement?

We sometimes run into the issue of parents treating robotics as “day care” and have zero interest in their child’s involvement. It’s sad when you’re waiting at the end of the meeting and a kid says “yeah my parents forgot to pick me up again, they’ll be here in a half hour”. People seem to be so busy and they don’t want to prioritize participating in their kid’s activities. Of course this is not all parents, we have some that are super involved and do an amazing job. But the number of involved parents seems to be less than in the past.

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#17

Well, there’s the million dollar question that literally every youth group would love to answer. The simple answer is ask.

  • Capture demographic info. Ask where parents work - ask if their employer would be appropriate to let your team do a tour, or be a sponsor.

  • If you are using a tool like Slack/Discord, have a general channel where parents can join and chat.

  • Communicate with parents occasionally via email/text/Facebook (You use Facebook to talk to parents, and pick the youth’s favorite app to talk to youth). Invest in a social media app that lets you post the same thing to multiple channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc), or at least use the same post as a base for each channel.

  • Prep for every parent meeting with a list of events where you need volunteers and things that you need donations. You don’t get a lot of mandatory parent meetings, to plan ahead to make the most out of them. Pitch positions like queuing and Field Reset to new volunteers, because you get to watch the game close up that way.

  • Invite parents to scrimmages. Let 'em drive the robot on the practice field. Let them geek out.

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#18

Things that help:

  1. Student contract when they join the team that outlines requirements and expectations, and consequences for not meeting those expectations and requirements.
  2. Student/Mentor Handbooks - mentors and students should all have handbook outlining the rules of the team
  3. Put the damn phones away. 0 tolerance policies have worked for me. I also remind the students to not waste my time otherwise I will send them home.
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#19

Write it like a syllabus. They’re preparing for college, you can use a similar methodology and format.

#20

Ask any parents who show up to help in some way, even if they are only there to pick up a student. Often, they will say something like “I don’t know anything about robots”. You can answer with something like “none of us knew anything about robots either when we started” and you can point out all the roles not directly related to building the robot that are needed to make a team function such as fundraising, arranging travel, arranging food, helping with outreach, chaperoning, helping to build field elements after kickoff…