Limits on Team Hours

I am not sure 14-18 year old students should be allowed to make that decision. It is the same reason we ‘shield’ them from cigarettes and alcohol. I’m not sure they are experienced enough to make those decisions.

Team 341 only has 27 build hours per week over 5 days per week. This works for us and hopefully can work for you. Its important that everyone stays healthy and happy. We manage to stay competitive by following a few simple ideas. Just an FYI, we build in a high school wood shop with simple tools and create a robot (and twin) that is 95% student built every year, so this can be done by anyone.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • More team members, better trained for less hours per person
    People often ask why our team is so large, the answer is build season

  • **Organize your team and divide the labor tasks in the fall **
    Students can practice their given task in a low pressure environment in Sept - Dec.

  • **Plan and design very, very carefully before you build **
    You can erase pencil, but its really hard to erase aluminum

  • ** Parallel building is hard but productive**
    If you can find a partner school or a local company try it.
    We work with our regional tech school, North Montco Technical Career Center

  • Have at least one, if not two mandatory days off.
    You will be more, not less productive

  • We do not work past 11 PM
    For safety and sanity reasons, I feel that it is dangerous to work too late into the night.
    It makes for great stories, but actually puts everyone at risk for a serious accident

When we first instituted these work restrictions many years ago, many coaches and students resisted the notion.
But I promise you that the restrictions will make you work harder and smarter and give everyone some much needed rest.

Though it is popular opinion, this school policy of barring people from working on the robot is ridiculous. You should suggest the common “gradecheck” for a student. If the student keeps up with their work they should be able to work on the robot. Just my 2 cents.

We kids should be allowed to manage our own time to an extent.

i will add, in addition to the grade restrictions i said earlier, we also have fridays off (unless we are in a crunch) and sundays are optional. 6pm-9pm weeknights other than friday, 10am-4pm saturady, 1pm-4/5pm sunday (opt.).

for me though, robotics is my social life during build season. i could lathe parts, solder circuits, weld frames, etc. forever… maybe i’m too weird :goofy:

now, our team is not as big as say, 217, 341, etc. we just don’t have the interest (most consider us dweebs at the former corn field known as Harrison High school). this year had some hope, as we got a couple of people not in the usual robotics crowd involved.

I would tend to disagree again.

I raise my 4, 7, and 9 year old children the same way. If their room isn’t clean, they don’t get to go to their friends. If they haven’t done their homework, they don’t get to watch TV. They’ve learned they have responsibilities and the penalty for not taking care of those responsibilities is to not get to go do ‘the fun stuff’.

Flunking a test, or even letting a grade slip a bit in highschool isn’t the end of the world. It is, however, a great way to drive the point home. It’s also a great way to bring a little perspective into their world: I’ve seen kids break down into tears when they got a C… that just isn’t right.

The key is to teach them decision making skills that will allow them to make the right choices. Shielding them from making the small unimportant mistakes like flunking a test or falling asleep and doing poorly on an assignment really doesn’t teach them anything.

Let them be kids and make mistakes. Just try to stop them from trying cigarettes and alcohol before the end of highschool. Let me know how that goes :yikes:

Time off from the shop is not a bad thing. AT ALL.

Every year, some of our most unsolvable technical problems get solved while I am at the store, talking on the phone or online one-on-one with other mentors or students, or in the shower (which, I’m convinced, is where Einstein must have figured out general relativity).

Al posted our schedule, and though we certainly add to it as the deadline nears, having scheduled days off forces you to gather your thoughts. You can walk into your shop the next day with a plan and you can use those hours 3x more effectively than you would have otherwise.

Sometimes stepping away from the machine (whether to do some CAD designing or just to spend time with your wife) is the right answer.

I think it is important to know what the priorities are in order to set some restrictions. For us this is the order of importance for our students.

  1. Family commitments and what ever parents have decided.
  2. School, no leeway here. If your grades are falling, you don’t work, you don’t travel, you don’t drive the robot.
  3. Other things that make life worth living.
  4. Robotics.

With that said, during the build, students are required to attend Monday night meetings, 5:30-8:30 PM for attendance, team info, contact with the lead teachers and whatever the subteams have planned. Sub teams have at least one other night during the week and students are sent packing at 8:30PM. Friday is date night for adults and students so no meetings. Saturday is generally all day but we expect students to bring homework so they have something to do when not working. Sundays are generally for church and family with some optional time at the playing field. The Saturday before ship is usually a long day but students must leave before curfew if they drive and whatever time the parents have set. Midnight is a hard out for anyone that isn’t required to leave earlier. Sunday before ship is a pre-ship party/scrimmage with as many other teams can make it during the day. Typically students are asked to sign up for shifts to help setup and start matches, continue with matches and helping other teams, and cleanup. Five or six is the hard out on that day because the rest of us are dead at that point.
The greatest number of errors, safety related injuries, breakage of parts all occur when people are overworked. Going home helps the robot, the team and your grades.

If the issue is about grades, then there should be a policy limiting work if your grades are bad (to not punish people who have no grade issue). If the issue is the members having a well balanced life, they should be allowed to determine how they spend their time when it comes to extra cirricular vs social. That is NOT something that school administrators should try control.

I’m biased, I put a ton of work into the team and wouldn’t survive on a limit. But I don’t really see where a cap is a good idea when put up against some other options.

There’s a lot of promise in this statement. Identifying where your team can work to improve and become more efficient. It is also reflective of a mature approach to helping resolve some of the concerns regarding the new limits on time. There are teams all over the world who deal with time limits and constraints that they haven’t imposed on themselves. Receiving the KoP later than other teams - weather that impacts on the build - problems that arise with which the team must contend with. Having a system developed and in place to deal with situations and emergencies that arise - is good practice. Having to develop the system for the situation or emergency that is impacting the team during the build, is difficult but has a huge learning curve that comes with it. Your team can spend time now addressing how you will manage the time next season. You view the new plan as one of limitations and restrictions but what if you look at it as opportunity to develop in areas of time management and organization? You could write down your timeline, showing how build has progressed during the 6 week build period in the past. Then develop a new timeline projecting how it will work in the upcoming season. Make notes and then schedule an appointment with your administrator to talk about and discuss the impact on the build for the team. This would help develop communications between the team and the administration and it would also reflect the maturity of the team leadership in dealing with change. The cup is half full.


Agreed! Most if not all MAYHEM students do not show up to every single meeting and miss 1-2 per week out of 6 at the least. Many of us have work (I have two jobs), prior commitments with our Churches such as youth group and other activities, school, and just about every student will go skiing at least once per week. I don’t know how some kids can get up in the morning, go to school, then to robotics right after school, home, homework, bed, repeat for 6+ weeks. Part of me thinks this schedule is what causes burnouts in week 5 when all kids have been doing is school and robotics non-stop. Especially teams who meet 7 days a week (we take Sundays off).

I would agree that you should try to get more hours/available time from this decision, but remember that they should have a balance outside of FRC like they do for the other 46 weeks of the year, like spending time with your family. Good luck!

I had always heard that he was sitting on a bus, but agree that the shower seems very conducive to idea generation.

As per the topic at hand. The issue your team is now dealing with is just another thing that is very “real world” about this program. In my wife’s previous job, she was limited to 40 hours per week due to budgetary issues, with zero exceptions. She was not permitted to work without being clocked in or to work from home. She is in the hotel event planning business, which is most definitely NOT a 9-5 job. Those in her department not on an hour count average more than 50 hours a week. She had to learn to manage her time more wisely and (as has been mentioned earlier in this thread) “work smarter”.

We run our team more like a team than a club. We expect the same level of dedication as the football, swim, or basketball team expects from its members. With that said, the mentors all fully support having “well-rounded” students. We had athletes, musicians, Eagle Scouts, members of regional church youth planning groups, etc, on this year’s team. I’ve always said that high school is the time to do a lot of activities and college is the time to focus on one and become very dedicated to it.

Work with your school to set reasonable boundaries. If they are dead-set on 200 hours, you’ll just need to learn to deal with that. 3.5 hours / day (3 - 6:30 for you) x 5 days / week x 6 weeks = 105 hours. This gives you 95 hours to play with on weekends. Assuming 6 weekends, this is more than 15 hours / weekend. This isn’t an impossible request. Had they said you had 50 hours, then yes, protest your heart out. But 200 hours doesn’t seem to be that bad.

Each team is different and forced to learn what is going to work best for them. That which does not kill you will only make you stronger. Learn from this opportunity. Good luck.

Most of our members don’t log anywhere near 200+ hours in the build season, but our captains and core members are typically around 200 or so hours. I know I logged over 200 hours this season, all while taking university courses and commuting between home, the university, and robotics. I didn’t miss a single build time (although I had to leave early a couple times) and my grades stayed the same.

It’s definitely manageable to log a lot of hours, but I understand why the school might want to set a limit. 500 hours in 6 weeks averages almost 12 hours per day. When you factor in (approximately) 6-7 hours for school 5 days per week, that leaves only 5-6 hours for homework, sleeping, and everything else. It’s awesome that there are people who are this committed to robotics, but at that point, I would start worrying about their health.

I put in a lot of time in high school. I used to stay until 2am some weeknights. There were some overnights when preparing for pre-ship events. I was also taking a full load of AP classes, working and playing varsity basketball. So I had a lot to do but somehow (lots of Mountain Dew) I got it all done successfully.
Honestly, I think I wouldn’t have learned as much if someone had capped my hours. I certainly wouldn’t know about time or project management.

The team I graduated from no longer has as insane hours. Now meetings end before 11pm. The team has grown so the work is more spread out. Overall, they meet for fewer hours but are still a successful team, in fact they could be considered even more successful now.
This was done by doing work outside of meetings and making the team more efficient. There are lots of emails and other communication messages so that everyone knows what needs to get done before the meeting starts. CAD has also become very important and helps save design time.

With every team I work with, Fridays and Sundays are off unless something horrible has happened then we might meet for a few hours on Friday.

I think it would be difficult to meet with those times because of them availability of mentors. It might also be hard if the students need to work on things after school. My teams meet from about 5-9 but students can come early to work on homework, eat, CAD, etc.

I’m surprised to say that based on the average number of hours we would be able to function with those limits. However, I know that without the people who went over the average then the team wouldn’t be as successful.
21 students worked an average of 15 hours during the pre-season. 9 mentors worked an average of 28 hours. There were 12 pre-season meetings. This time includes work done outside of meetings for students but not for mentors. The reason the mentors have a higher average is because some of the students only came to a meeting or two.
17 students worked an average of 85 hours during the build season. 15 mentors worked an average of 72 hours during the build season. The students worked an average of 40 hours after the robot shipped. The mentors worked an average of 29 hours after the robot shipped. This time includes work done outside of meetings for students but not for mentors.
I think I need to re-run these numbers because they seem low.

As someone who is starting to get into this whole “real world” thing, I can tell you that’s simply not true. There are countless situations in the real world where time caps are in place for many reasons. Labor laws, union regulations, funding issues, work site availability, and contract stipulations are all very frequent reasons for why time limits exist in the real world. Collin gave an example of one situation just a couple posts ago.

Time caps are part of the real world, and the team may very well have to find a way to work with them. 200 hours isn’t a terribly small amount of time. Based on some scratch paper calculations and my fuzzy memory, I doubt I spent much more than 200 hours in any particular build season I’ve been involved in. And I know that the average student on my teams definitely doesn’t spend more than 200 hours.
If you feel you need more time, work to try and raise the cap. But it will likely be much easier to make exceptions for individual students rather than the team as a whole. Especially if the key students who need to spend more time also have great grades.

Exactly. Another example is with government contracts - legally, you are obligated to log every hour spent working the contract so you can bill the government (to prevent anti-competitive situations where a company low-balls a bid in order to win it and then has employees work unrecorded hours to execute).

As someone who is in a significantly different “real world” I can say your mileage may vary. Some industries have labor laws or funding limits that limit your amount of time. My company has neither of these. I know people who have left the building at 4 am and been back at 8 am the next day. It isn’t normal but the job must get done. But that is not normal. It is usually because of an emergency (server explodes) or because they broke something. Or it could just be because they have nothing better to do.

In FIRST though you don’t get fined when your robot doesn’t work at 100% by week 3 of the build season. There is absolutely no reason to kill yourselves. Remember, this is supposed to be fun.

As for the specific number. 200 hrs in 6 weeks works out to 33 hrs a week. I don’t know about your school but I know that is a crazy amount of time if you add it onto the 35-40 hrs/ week of school. How do your mentors even spend that much time there? I know that the thought of spending 30+ hrs a week in addition to the 40+ (sometimes as high as 60) I work in a week would kill me.

If I was in your situation I would bring up statistics of people from your school on the robotics team and not on the robotics team and prove to the administration that robotics hours don’t hurt grades. I personally always did better in school during the second term because robotics forced me to become more organized.

We have problems with our teacher not wanting to be in the lab enough and have 2 meetings a week for the first 3 weeks. One thing we try to do to make up for this lack of time is meet up at someone’s house on days when we don’t have meetings and discuss our plans for the next couple of days and do everything we can do outside of the lab.

Ok I re-ran the numbers so it is no longer based on averages. My smaller team would be able to meet the 200 hour restriction but it would require more students to step up to help balance the work load. It would also require more of the design, awards, etc to be done outside of team meetings. So 200 hours is definitely possible not only for the build season but for the whole season if your team is organized and on the smaller side.

My larger team would not be able to do this. My larger team has a website group, animation group, course group, and video group unlike my smaller team. The other subgroups are also bigger on this team so the team is able to accomplish more (as far as complex designs, team outreach, etc).

the most (recorded) hours put into the robot by any of our members was 104. i say recorded, because i know i put in a lot that i just didn’t clock in for. but to get to the point, i think that you could easily fit within the new restraints. we did fairly well, and are always improving. we just work every year on working more efficiantly.

As the Head Coach & Mentor of the team (1540) facing these restrictions, a little background might be in order.

Our team is based at a small top-tier private school, Catlin Gabel in Portland, OR, with 280 students in the entire high school. We had 25 students on our team this season. Therefore, when robotics is in full swing the impact on students and thus the minds of the faculty is big. Students are required to log at least 50 hours in the fall and 50 during build season to be on the team. The average for build season was 120hrs, median 108hrs. One student logged 350+ hrs, another around 300. All the rest were below 200.

Our robot is entirely student designed and built. I say this as a way of underlining the fact that the students know that if they don’t get something done, the mentors aren’t going to fill in the gaps. That can lead to some excessive hours for those deeply invested.

Our school doesn’t have grades in the normal sense. There are written comments on each student’s performance at various intervals throughout the year. They then synthesize a letter grade for colleges at the end of the year.

This school is incredibly intense, with 100% going on to college, often to Ivy league schools. The normal homework load on a given night is 4-6 hours. Every class is basically AP, though we don’t call it that. The students sometimes negotiate extensions for big assignments that happen during build season.

Our team has just finished up our sixth year. This year there were complaints from the faculty that robotics was having too big an impact on the academic performance of several of our students. That triggered a review of the program and hence the caps being discussed.

The caps would be:
200 hours max per student IN THE LAB. What they do outside of the lab is their business.

3:00-6:30pm on school nights in the lab. Open until 10:00pm on non-school nights.

Saturdays 10:00am-10:00pm

Holidays 10:00am-6:30pm

Sundays 10:00am-6:30pm near ship, otherwise closed.

While I wasn’t a fan of artifical caps when they were first brought up, I’ve come to see them as just another constraint that must be balanced, just like performance, weight, time, expense, etc. What I do like about it is it forces the team to develop a broader set of base skills so that more of the team gets involved in the time consuming parts of the robot’s design and construction.

Thanks for all your thoughtful comments so far! Keep them coming.