Keeping and teaching new members

At the start of the season we had many new members show up. Somewhere between 10-20 new members is my estimate. However, if I remember correctly most of them left before kick off. This left us with a small amount of new members who stayed on the team for the whole season.

How do you go about getting new members and having a good amount of them stay? Also how do you approach teaching new members?

Thank you!

We’ve had the same problem for years. What we’ve come to realize is that instead of having the older kids do cool projects and experiment with different things, their primary focus needs to be teaching and engaging new members.

This year on one of our subteams we had eight new kids interested, but only one student capable of teaching them. He focused his attention of four of those students, and all four stayed around and contributed to the team during build season. Now picking four students wasn’t the best strategy, but my point is that there needs to be a much greater emphasis placed on engaging kids rather than excluding them while trying to build something very complex.

I agree that the key is to keep the prospective members engaged in learning and doing interesting things. We try to keep the lecture & video time in small doses, and get people designing and building right from the start. Almost every year we rebuild our air cannon before or during football season - not because it’s broken but because it’s a great way to get some practice in building and wiring a robot, on a firm schedule. We usually do a mini build season in November which exercises the design and build skills, and gives us a good idea of our capabilities for the coming competition build. We’ve gotten to the point where most of the people who leave do so because the team requires more time and energy than they can afford, not because they are bored or not engaged, and very few leave once January arrives.

The key to the off-season is training. Everything should be focused around getting new members interested, engaged, and trained so they have some idea of what they’re doing after kickoff.

For us, that all starts with our summer camp. We have a number of activity “stations” that new members rotate through to learn about the different subteams. They get to build cool stuff, and even do one or more projects that they can take home with them. The result is that most students from summer camp end up joining us for the fall as well.

In the fall, we identify projects for each subteam that are achievable, utilize a range of skills and equipment those team members need to master, and provide an opportunity for learning from everyone involved. This means returning members get the opportunity to teach younger members, plan the project, and develop their leadership skills through experience. New members get to pair up with returning members to learn how to use the equipment and do what needs to be done (under close direction) while getting a glimpse of where they may be in a year or two.

As a result of this focus, we tend to only lose students between years. Some people decide they can’t afford the time commitment for robotics and want to focus on something else instead. But if they show up for summer camp or the fall, they usually stick it out throughout the year!

  1. Training, as mentioned above.

  2. At our school, Robotics is pretty popular - we end up having an application process, “tryout period” and cuts. Over the past few years we’ve gotten a pretty good idea of how many people drop off throughout the year, and we recruit factoring in that number. The TL;DR for a smaller team like yours - advertise really hard and don’t be afraid if your team starts out a bit larger than ideal.

  3. Giving new members a variety of oppertunities. When people join our team, they join a specific subteam (build, design, programming, business or art). But the reality is most freshmen don’t really know what they want to do yet. We encourage people to explore what other subteams are doing, help out on outreach projects, and really find what they are passionate about. People are allowed to formally switch subteams the next year.

  4. Identify when someone isnt engaged, and actively go talk to them. This is the hardest, but probably one of the most effective. People will usually tell you what’s bugging them, and by doing this it shows you care

We are also a newer team and have little track record to go on. In general I assume a 50:50:50 ratio. If an informational meeting is well publicized take the number that show up. Half will sign up for the team. And of that number, half will do most of the work.

We do send out a personal invite (I call it the Hogwarts Letter) to students we particularly want to have on board. Most of these are 9th graders who are “alumni” of a middle school program that is relevant. Our middle school runs an afterschool program with Lego Mindstorms and also a DIY junkbot building class. I am associated with the latter and we have FIRST high school team members help with this. So the newbies come on board at least knowing what a speed controller is!

In the year ahead we are going to revamp this. We now have enough extra FIRST parts to just go ahead and make the middle school class centered on that technology. And we are starting to do a bit of summer program stuff, five or six students are meeting to brush up on programming…one of next year’s recruits is among them. And one of our sponsors is a Maker’s Space that is offering team members free access starting in August. We plan on running a few classes in relevant areas but this is intended to be a “fun”, work on your own projects offer.

I’d be happy to forward a copy of the Hogwarts Letter if you are interested…it brings in a higher percentage of “keepers”, but sometimes we are surprised by walk ons we never heard of who turn up and are key team members…

T. Wolter

I would love to see a copy of the letter.

My recommendation is to have a sort of open house period for a day or two in the beginning of the year in which students can spend time with each subteam that interests them, and then pick and start the heavy learning then.

We’ve taken this a bit farther as our team is now limited to 25 student members (vs about 50 two years ago when we had more build space). We don’t have specific functional subteams except for CAD, and somewhat programming (though we’re hoping to expand here as well with our summer programming camp this week). Work groups are created dynamically to design/build/iterate specific systems (e.g. build a drive train or manipulator). Of course, we try to put a bit of knowledge about everything in each group, but it is not unusual for one team to “borrow” the team expert at something (e.g. installing encoders or crimping PWM cables) for a short time; we encourage these loans especially to be learning experiences. Each team member manages to find/create a niche, and most then grow in it.

OK, this is a rough draft of this year’s Hogwart’s Letter. We send it out in the first couple of weeks of school.

"Dear ______________

Sorry this could not be delivered by Owl. Because it is just a little like getting a letter from Hogwarts!

FIRST Robotics team 5826 is always looking for talented new members, and based on some of your interests in middle school we are hoping you will join the team.

FIRST Robotics is a competitive, world wide engineering event for high schoolers, and in out first two seasons the team from Chippewa Falls has had some excellent success.

We are looking for lots of different people. If you can program or weld or work with complex mechanisms, we have a spot for you. If you enjoy teaching or working with local businesses we want you for our outreach and PR department. We even need people with an eye for creative design, or an attention to rules and specifications. Perhaps the best recruit of all would be somebody with interests in several areas and a willingness to learn.

Although the core of the team historically has been “alumni” from the Voyagers robotics classes, no experience needed.

We will have last year’s robot and some of the team, on hand in the cafeteria for the lunch hours on __________________. Stop by and have a look.

And if you want to take your interest to the next level, there will be an organizing meeting on _____________ in Room __________.

Hope to see you there. It has been said that any technology sufficiently advanced will be mistaken for magic. And 5826 is advancing rapidly!

Dr. Wolter and the coaching staff of 5826

Awesome, thank you so much for sharing. :slight_smile:

We are a pretty large team, about 40-50 students on average. I think the following contributes to our ability to maintain a core of talented students and limit drop-offs:

We support an FTC team - consistent flow of interested students coming into the high school

We structure the entire year - preseason, build season, competition season, post season (summer). This allows them to participate all year if desired. Preseason we get them hooked early with mini-competitions like who’s soda bottle rockets, windmills, egg drops and work up to prototyping. We also offer classes in mechanical,electrical and programming. Build season and Competition season are self explanatory. Summer we do a lot of demos, advocacy, and outreach and a project to keep the serious kids interested.

We do not require full participation all year so we accommodate students with sports and music and art conflicts well.

We work on a system of achievements so each achievement lowers your travel costs.

You have to have a lot of varied mentors and involved parents to share the load.

Further info can be found in our handbook: http://penfieldrobotics.com/docs/TeamHandbook.pdf