Limits on Team Hours

Hi All,

Team 1540 takes pride in being a student-managed team and producing a 100% student-designed and built robot. Recently, our school enacted a policy regarding the amount of time that students could have for homework and extracurricular activities. For this last build season, the policy did not impact the robotics program, and certain team members (myself included), racked up huge amounts of hours to finish the robot in 6 weeks. The administration caught wind of it, and was slightly concerned that students were putting 2, 3, 400 hours into robotics over a 6 week period of time. We were recently presented with a proposal that would not let a student into the robotics lab if he/she broke 200 hours over the 6 week build season. Additionally, the lab would be open from 3-6:30 on any school night, and only until 10 on weekends. My friends and I are concerned about how this may affect our build for next season. While there are many things we can do to distribute the hours, distributing tasks, training more new members etc. there are certain things that require some key members to put in large amounts of time.

I was wondering if other teams have statistics about the average and median amount of hours committed by team members over the build season. Anecdotes would work too. What I’m looking for are things that I, and my team, can take to our administration to see if we can amend the policy before it goes into effect for next year’s build season. Also, if anyone has any past experience with situations similar to this, anything would be greatly appreciated.

I hate when schools implement policies like this.

Regardless, in 2008 and 2009 I’d say I logged about 250hrs - 300hrs at school for build season. That doesn’t include time I spent working on robotics related things at home or at work.

The only time limit we’ve ever had on our team was a shift limit. Most normal students are limited to (3) 2.5hr shifts per week during build.

This is the first I’ve heard of this, and I have to say, frankly, it’s stupid.

My team logs in roughly 200 hours, with a few core logging in more hours in extra meetings and stuff outside of meetings.

No, it is not stupid. It is an attempt to solve a real problem that students face. Instead of calling the administration stupid work with them to set realistic bounds.

I disagree there needs to be bounds set at all.

If the students other activites are not suffering, why would we limit their potential?

That’s the policy we take. They know that school comes first. The more responsible students don’t need to be told that. The other ones get a very stern counciling session should their grades slip at all.

How do kids develop personal responsibility if we shield them from making any bad decisions? Many people learn more from mistakes than they do from being told.

I see this as a step toward nannyism that the school shouldn’t be taking. Where are their parents? The mentors? It’s not a school’s responsibility to manage these kids outside of school.

In fact, if no one on your team had their grades slip substantially, then I would argue that this is an answer that is in search of a problem.

Problem? I saw nothing in the first post that said that student performance dropped. I see no reason to fix something that isn’t broken. If you try to, well, stupid is an accurate word. If there was a problem with students sleeping in class, skipping class, getting worse grades (even if they are not bad) than the policy has some meat on its bones.

does your school do grade checks? our school does and any robotics sudent earing less than a C in any class gets banned from excued ansences for trips, and less than a D gets you barred from meetings until the grades are up.

that way, if you are spending too much time on robotics not doing HW, you get a lame grade and get barred. trust me, it is a good incentive.

maybe you could try our system?

For the team it may not be a problem but this policy is across the board and it IS a problem for many high schoolers. Now, perhaps the team may get an exception made but calling the policy stupid is a good way of pissing off the people you need to help you.

I put about 240 hours at school, and about another 50 outside of school. I would say see if you can set the bar at 250, you can’t really put in much more then that. Or if the do keep it lower be a little creative (or subtractive) when i comes to logging in your hours where ever they are recorded. It is easier to agree with an idiot and do what you want behind his back, then it is to explain to him why he is an idiot.

Alrighty, the policy is not stupid, the implementation is stupid.

I mean, like almost everyone in the thread, if the students can maintain their performance in classes, why penalize them at all?

In robotics, we have a rule that if your grade drops below a 75, which is a D, then you can’t attend after school meetings. It’s logical. But putting a cap on the involvement of some of the students on the team who are doing everything right is wrong.

My mother is a high school chemistry teacher, and mentors a team. If a teacher tells her that a student is being delinquent, they have to rectify the situation before they can work on the robot. I’ve even seen her force a student to finish late homework during a build session and turn it in to her before they can go work on the robot. I think it is effective largely because my mom can embarrass anyone. ((<3 Mom))

I think this type of restriction is much more effective than a time limit. I think working on the robot can be a very tasty carrot, and being kicked out after a number of hours can be an arbitrary stick.

I easily spent 200+ hours in the shop during build when I was a student; I’d have to see if any of my time logs are still around my house for an exactish number. Others spent more time.

Now, where the administration is coming from: They have a policy that limits time on extracurriculars. You guys are exceptions for now. Policies don’t like exceptions as a general rule. So, they’re working on limiting the exception. They’re probably also a little concerned about health, grades, etc.

There is also a valid reason to limit time in the shop: You need time for family, homework, sleep, etc., regardless of whether you think you do or not. My college recently implemented a policy on their engineering teams: Nobody in the lab between 2AM and 7:30AM, or something like that. This was to keep us all sane. Could it be bent? Yes, near competition. But only if you were doing well in school, health, etc., and weren’t doing it regularly. Teams are actually more relaxed now, and doing better work.

What I would suggest is offer a counter-proposal: Lab open 3-7 on school nights (6:30 is good, but see if you can get an extra half-hour to clean up), open to 10 on weekends, don’t restrict student time yet (emphasis on yet, because we’d like to get a fairer estimate of time). Track every student’s time in the lab for this year. Time off-site designing and programming and such like doesn’t count, but it would be a good idea to monitor that also. At the end of the next build cycle, total up the hours and come up with an average and a grand total. Round up to the nearest 25 for ease of tracking, and set that as the base limit. Do not count time working on homework in the lab–homework is important and not robotics stuff. (And if a student is being unproductive, i.e. messing around, count that time not at all.)

Request variances at the start of the school year based on how many students are reported on the team; that is, we know it takes about this many man-hours to complete a robot, we have this many students available, therefore, this is how many hours a given student can be expected to put in. Repeat the time-gathering every year to get better data; for example, a one year you might build a kitbot and the next year you might build unobtainabot that takes 10x as many hours to build, and a straight time-log won’t show that.

Also, propose exceptions/extensions that can be applied for: if a lot of help is needed to finish on time, the team should be able to request extra open time, not to go beyond midnight on any given night, for up to two weeks in February. Students should be able to request up to two individual 50-hour extensions towards any time limit provided that they are in good standing. This is to help the robot do well at competition, and thereby show the school favorably. :wink: (Robot not do so well at competition, school/sponsors might not look quite so great.)

Not that I agree with the implementation of a hard limit, but it worries me that all the posters in this thread think the only two things to be juggled are robotics and school. Every teenager should strive to have a well balanced lifestyle that has time for socializing, exercise, school and a variety of extracurricular activities. There are far too many students in FIRST who only focus school and robotics, and for lack of a better characterization are socially deficient.

I’m not saying a hard cap on robotics hours is the answer (at least half of the 1114 students would blow past the 200 hours by week 4), but I think we need to remember that there’s much more to a healthy lifestyle than just FIRST and school.

This probably isn’t what you want to hear, but:

I think it all depends on what you want to do. In 2008 we built a robot that could probably compete with the Space Shuttle for most complicated system ever built. [video]]( I spent about 170ish hours at the school… and I was only around for 3 weeks of build! The core students and mentors (12ish) also averaged 40+ hours. Our two lead mentors were somewhere north of that. In short, we built a totally sweet robot, but we totally burned out our team.

In 2009, we only met 3 times a week for 4 hours for the first 3 weeks, 4 times a week for weeks 4-5, and daily during week 6. We put in significantly fewer hours, yet we were more competitive than we were in 2008!

Limits are not bad things, after all “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”](’s_Law) :slight_smile:

Agreed, our #1 student in terms of hours (and I mean just some KILLER hours), is also our student with the highest GPA. He got a B once, in AP Euro, but for a technical kid that aint bad.

My team personally didn’t put much time into the robot, because some of the elements weren’t done until the regional, which would explain our bad performance. I’d estimate about 100 hours.

Personally, I think the restriction is a bit pointless, ratdude’s idea makes sense. You could try telling admin that you have grade restrictions in place if you try his idea, and see if they give you some leeway.


And as one of those students who has focused just on school and robotics (this was the first season that I focused on other things, such as a job and friends, too. Still a bit over-constrained, but that’s a different problem entirely), I mostly agree with this. I don’t believe that I’ve become socially deficient, but it does take a huge toll both physically and psychologically. There are plenty of people who can attest that I’ve had many late nights, crammed many projects and papers in at the last minute, have broken down in tears because of stress, and have had extreme bouts of pessimism over the past three years, particularly in the winter months. My grades suffered. And it really sucks. It’s also a hard trap to get out of, which is why I haven’t escaped yet. You would think that being sick for three consecutive months would convince me to never do it again, but it doesn’t work like that.

A hard cap could do some people (like myself) a lot of good, and prevent what’s happened to me from happening to others, but it’s not for everyone. We have a minimum requirement for hours, but the only reward for racking up that many hours is getting to travel with the team (we assumed that parents wouldn’t want to drive their kids 6 hours up to Traverse City if they could just as easily have gotten a ride with the team). Minimums are good, maximums…not always. There will never be a policy that will work good for everyone. I think that we can all see where the administration is coming from, and it may be a drastic difference from what you’re used to, but you’ll have to adjust to them. If you can prove to the school that your team is mature enough to handle the change respectfully and understandably, maybe in a few years you’ll be able to convince them to allow your team a little more flexibility in hours.

Agreed. Though many of us categorize our time by “at Robotics” and “anywhere else”, we need to keep in mind that there are a myriad of other situations calling our attention. I’ve learned that the hard way this past build season.

I managed to actually spend more hours with robotics this year despite having a job and an increased workload at school. It was effective; I was able to help both divisions of our team with countless projects, while still logging a ton of shop hours and fulfilling my specific responsibilities as a manager on our team (every so often). Furthermore, I maintained an A+ average in all my classes (which were all honors courses).

To do this, something had to give. Unfortunately, I sacrificed time with my family during those six weeks. I was off to school at 8am, off to work at 4PM, then back to school until 11, 12, sometimes 1am. There was even a stint this year where I spent 35-38 hours straight (can’t quite remember, it’s a bit of a blur) at the school with a few mentors and teammates. Inevitably however, my relationship with my family began to turn sour. I would come home after being gone for 12 hours, completely exhausted and often times frustrated, and my family was forced to deal with my foul state of mind. Even my own mother came to me and asked whether I was using drugs or drinking, because she simply could not explain how I had changed so much. Of course I was doing neither, but nonetheless, it speaks to the drastic transformation I had gone through because of the stress.

My priorities weren’t straight: robotics came before anything. Frankly, though I don’t endorse the idea, I will admit that with a cap on my hours I would have probably helped my state of mind and being.

Be mindful of all the factors that a teen should worry about. School, family and friends require just as much attention as getting your competition robot assembled, the difference being that your teammates cannot fix/repair your relationships.

Time caps are limiting. In the real world, you work however long it takes until your project gets done by the deadline.
But, one thing no one mentioned that surprises me: Work smarter, not harder.
If you can’t shake this ban, then (I’m about to sound cruel) live with it [/cruel]. Do what you can when you can. If you can’t build for the first hour, write chairman’s, get homework done, CAD… Do whatever you can do without loud-noised tools. At the school we work at, we can’t work (with power tools) until a mentor shows up. That can be up to an hour and a half after the students get there. What do we do in the meantime? Homework, I set up the welding booth, we get stuff out of storage, we get team input on important things, we eat…

Also, I have to echo that it can’t be a bad thing. If I’m missing a single assignment during build, my parents don’t let me attend meetings. I let everything else go during robotics: I eat/sleep poorly. My friends can’t wait till after my first regional. I couldn’t have a job because there was no way I could work around it. My parents (and friends and teachers) would LOVE to see this put into effect.

I’m not saying I’d be thrilled to have this put in effect with my team, but I’m saying that it might just be a hurdle. You’re gunna have to jump.

I’ve been thinking about starting a thread proposing a FIRST ‘enforced’ cap on work hours during buildseason. I’m a big believer (although not always a follower) on the idea of balance in life. As several has stated, having an unbalanced life (or 6 weeks) for FIRST and school is not healthy. I’ve heard stories/rumors of teams working past midnight on school nights and working over 40 hours a week (on top of school/job). I do not see how students can come close to the recommened 8 hours of sleep a night and complete their homework and fulfill their social needs. It is just not healthy.

What is the causes teams to work soo long and hard? I think it has to do building a competitive robot and competing with the elite teams. I suspect that the time committment has increased throughout the years. In order to compete with the elite teams that spend a ton of time working, you also have to spend a ton of time working. Those elite teams, who want to keep their edge, work harder and longer. Eventually, everyone is working an unhealthy amount.

Why not cap the amount of time to, say, 30 hours a week and no later than 10PM on school nights? Will students be less inspired? Will fewer mentors get burned out and thus stay with the program longer? FIRST already gives us restrictions to the size and weight of the robot, why not restrict how long we can work on the robot? I believe the NCAA has limits the amount of time football teams can practice, so the practice is not unheard of. Additionally, atleast in Wisconsin, minors cannot work more than some limit of hours per week or past some hour on school nights, during the school year.

I’m not sure if I would support a rule that limits the amount of time a team can work on a robot, but I think it certainly has its advantages; mainly it is more healthy for the students, probably will not result in less-inspiration, and will increase the likelyhood of mentors sticking with FIRST.