"Instructions are for people who don't know what they're doing."

As a mentor, how do you ensure that your students read the manuals?

It has become painfully apparent to me that many of us in the FIRST community live by Bob the Builder’s phrase “Instructions are for people who don’t know what they’re doing.” I know I have been guilty of it myself in the past, and I understand the allure to doing something without looking at the manual.

However, manuals are written for a reason: They are not created to satisfy someone’s desire to feel important, they are created to ensure safe and successful operation of the devices.

The new control system has a lot of safety features intended to protect against mis-wiring, but protecting against some things are simply infeasible. For a quick example, the chassis of the camera is grounded and therefore must be insulated from the robot chassis.

We need to work to change the phrase to “Instructions are for people who want to do it right.”

One of my mentors once told me that “Everything is easy and makes sense, so long as you do it right the first time and don’t screw it up.” He was specifically speaking about RF, but I find it translates well to just about everything I do.

I am going to try a simple method this year. (Simple for me.) I am having the student controls (electrical and programming) team leads design a test or some other method to make sure everyone who is working with the control system has read the manual. They have to get it approved by myself and the other lead mentor. This means they will have to read the manual. And they will figure out how to make sure everyone else has. We will keep a list of approved team members. Just like we do for the tools in the shop.

as in the machining tools? or all the tools?

that sounds great, but some people might feel left out.

I would say that feeling left out would be a good thing, it would encourage the students to read up on the rules. It is not like you are picking 50% of your students based on how TALL they are, you are saying, “You guys read the rules and NOW you are certified to do X”

There are many teams who test their students, I am sure some of them wouldn’t mind sharing an old test.

I’ve found that nothing better says “hey, you better read this” than flourescent paper. Although an entire manual of bright pink paper is overkill - use sparingly.

Our team grew considerably this year. It doubled in size from 15 to 30.

With only a couple full time mentors, it’s difficult to watch everything at once.

Therefore, I created a “competence matrix”. Every single tool or trade is listed. Wiring, programming, etc. In order for any student to use them, they have to have proved prior competence - and that includes understanding info from the manual. This was my attempt at improving safety a bit.

They have to be certified by another certified user. We’ll probably go a step further next year and create an actual test for each item.

We used to have a test of the game rules prior to competing.
We also tested team members’ knowledge of the team itself after spending many weeks doing teambuilding sessions… it was fun to see who could answer all the questions correctly.

We had some parental pushback against a test. I will not go into my opinions or any other further discussion of why…

One of the first things I do to try and cut down on the “there’s to much to read” argument, is to bring a copy of the specification documents for whatever I happen to be working on at work when the kick-off happens each year. I build spaceflight hardware, so the documentation I’m working from usually runs to well in excess of 500+ pages. I set that down next to the current rules, and explain that if the team members are really interested in going into engineering or technology fields, they may as well get used to having to read the requirements. And that what they have to read is really not all that bad.

I also explain that the three most common things they will hear me say for the next 6 weeks are:

  1. Is your homework done?
  2. How much does that weigh?
  3. It’s in the rules

In general, I try not to let team members that have not read the rules get too far down the wrong path, but after once or twice when they find out that the last several hours of their work is no good because they didn’t read the rules, they get the idea that they really should read them.

As an inspector, it’s pretty easy for me to tell when I look at a robot or talk to team members if they have read the rules or not. My favorite is when they only read “the important ones”. Apparently the ones concerning the Bill of Material, team numbers, sponsor logos, and the use of tape are often not considered to fall into that category :frowning: At least those are easy to fix at the regional, it’s pretty depressing to have to tell a team they have to do a major redesign or rewire the whole robot on Thursday because they didn’t read all the rules.

Lead Inspector, 10,000 Lakes Regional

As a team, in small groups, we read the bulk of the manual aloud to one another (yes, really!) in the workshop we hold immediately after the game is released. In the small groups we discuss what we have read until we know that we have a general understanding of what was read.

We also have a game test that is required to attain different levels of scoring based on desire to travel, be on the drive team, be in the pit crew, etc. The students are allowed to test and retest until they have obtained the score they wanted to achieve or we reach the final deadline for travel selection. Testers are offered testing support services in the same way that they are offered academic support services in their classrooms.

There’s and easy fix for that; read the manual. If they want to be in that “group”, it’s not that hard for them to read it.

As a student leader, I’m having the same problem, to an even larger degree. Last year I worked with our VEX team and wrote a short synopsis, about a page and a half, on GP, FIRST, the game, and the rules. Just what I considered the basis of what a team member ought to know, and would want to know. Some of the other student leaders and I made a test, and it seemed that most of the students didn’t have a clue what they were doing, and hadn’t bothered to read the short page i had written, much less the manual. However, when we went to our mentor about preventing some of these members from going to competition, or at the very least, making sure they learned this before they went, we only received shallow promises.
I would say that a greater part of our team has no idea what gracious professionalism is, and nearly half have no idea why we can’t put a chainsaw on our robot. Not only will they not read the rules, they don’t even know why we have rules.

Definitely a good idea.

:rolleyes:]You could also have them come on here and ask questions. Just let us know first so the very first response is, “Read the manual!” rather than the answer they want./:rolleyes:]

Also, spend the first week of build looking over the rules, designing strategies within the rules, and generally dissecting the rules. Not only will this help with rules knowledge, it may also help give you a competitive strategy. Now, the catch: If someone proposes a strategy/device/design that is against the rules, they have to find the rule that outlaws it. (Give them the section–we aren’t totally mean!) Or, they have to show that it doesn’t violate the rules. I bet they’ll learn pretty quickly-- if for no other reason than to save themselves from more reading!

Doing it right (=correctly) and doing it the easiest successul way are often one and the same. Similarly, doing it incorrectly is often more difficult.

But on to the question: We make sure we - mentors, senior team members - communicate very clearly that it is fully expected that everyone read, understand and know the manual. I make sure I know the whole book, no kid can catch me unawares. Some kids figure they can dog it, like schoolwork, but it becomes pretty obvious who did and who didn’t. I challenge every student on the rules, and they just love it when they can prove me wrong - not that I let them do that often…

We review the rules in the strategy meetings held right after the kick-off. We do encourage the students (and mentors) to read the rules, and keep up with the revisions to the Competition Manual.

Finally, students who want to be part of the drive team have to take a test. Doing well on the test doesn’t guarantee that you will be on the drive team, but doing poorly will insure that you won’t be on the field.

I certainly don’t expect the students to know all the rules. Especially the “little picky ones” like how to build a bumper, or ones that get modified on the Q&A forum.

The general rules, and specific rules related to areas that a student is working on, yeah… they need to know. The general rules are covered pretty well through discussion during strategy and design sessions in the first week of build. I can direct students to specific sections of the rule book or Q&A when they need to know that section. The pneumatics and electrical sections tend to be the longest, but really aren’t all that demanding when read “on their own”.

I remember as a rookie how much time it took trying to wrap my head around all the rules… and what they meant… but it does get easier over the years. (Quick… what wire gauge, colours, and breaker size did you need for hooking up a CIM?) Since students have this terrible habit of graduating (usually just when they are getting really, really useful) and moving on, it is pretty difficult for them to keep up with all the rules. I’d rather having them working and thinking than fixating too much on rules.


P.S. Those who know the rules, know that there is not a “quick” answer to the above question. The only requirement specifically for a CIM is that you need to use a Victor speed controller, rather than a Spike… technically you could use a 20A breaker and 18ga wire… although it would be *wise *to use a 40amp breaker and something a bit heavier than the minimum 12ga required in the rules. And something a lot of tech inspectors (usually rookie techs)don’t realize… the wires only need to be red/black (or that other approved colour combo that I always forget) up to the Victors… after that they can (and, I suggest, should) be whatever you want them to be.

I have to ask, as someone who’s been around a while… Which year’s ruleset, exactly?:stuck_out_tongue:

Yeah, I know they haven’t exactly changed in a while.

Our team usually tests our students on rules about the robot and the game before going to competitions. If you don’t get a 100% on all the tests (we usually have 3 or 4), then you aren’t allowed to be in the pits. Our mentor also incorporates questions that the judges might ask the team on the tests, which is a pretty good idea.

We basically don’t let the kids do “any of the fun stuff” until they read the manual. But in FIRST it is all fun. We have found that what works best for us is meeting for a short while after kickoff to discuss is good but keep it short so that people can go home and study up on the rules.

Out of curiosity, do other teams have the position of “rule guru?” I’ve had the idea (can’t be original, someone has to have thought of this!) before of letting an interested student be the team’s rule guru, and be in charge of knowing the rules to the detail, and being very familiar with said rules should a question arise. That way, during build, any sub team can just ask the rule guy if their idea is legal or not.

(That being said: It’s still incredibly important that all build or competition members have at minimum a general understanding of can and can’t be done.)

Some teams do, and it is recommended by FIRST. Now, I would actually suggest two. Here’s why.

The first guru has the responsibility to track the Game Manual. Their job is to read the manual, read all the updates, and maintain a current copy of the manual in some form. Twice a week or so, the rules may suddenly change slightly for clarity or to stop something that wasn’t intended. Guru 1 needs to track that.

The second guru works alongside Guru 1. Guru 2 knows the manual well, but not necessarily as well as Guru 1. Guru 2 tracks the official Q&A. Guru 2 has to filter through the mess of questions that could have been answered in the manual and finds the relevant information. Interpretations made in Q&A are passed on to Guru 1 as needed. Guru 2 may also be the team’s authorized Q&A poster, so they can ask questions that haven’t been answered yet that will affect the team.

Both of these are “full-time”, as in, the Q&A updates daily or faster (Guru 2) while Guru 1 gets questions from the team. I can do both, but it does help to have another.

I guess what I’m saying is that one guru takes care of team-related/general rules questions and the other deals with interpretation/how is this going to be called situations. (And for the latter, the YMTC sub-forum in Rules/Strategy can be pretty helpful in figuring out what rules will soon be clarified. The Rules/Strategy forum can also be handy in general.)