Michigan only - Survey for Mentors

Michigan Mentors -

Based on the idea of sustaining new and newer teams, I am asking you to complete this survey so I can gauge interest in mentors helping other mentors.

Basic idea - New and newer coaches are doing their best, but we still see teams coming to Michigan District events with incomplete robots and/or chassis bots which cannot actively score points in the challenge. This is happening even after the release of the Everybot and the KitBot.

So how do we help? When I first got involved, there was a weekly rookie phone call run by Team Rush (27) which was somewhat helpful; even if only to know others were willing to help.

I am proposing the development of a remote “Office Hours” weekly session where new and newer (1 to 3 years) teams and mentors can ask questions from December through February. Ideally, the remotely hosting mentors are a rotating crew so no one has to shoulder the burden every week, but we help out those looking for answers. This is not to give away your teams’ plans nor is it to enforce a set schedule on the rookie and newer teams. This is to offer assistance and advice to those seeking help.

Another aspect, which would require more commitment, is to also offer a second session dedicated to assistance with the build of the KitBot. This would be separate from the already developed video series. This would require mentors to have experience in building the KitBot so they could offer tips on what teams might want to do in case they cannot find a particular part or are having trouble executing a specific aspect of machining the parts.

This survey is just to gauge interest, not any commitments. Please only complete if you are a mentor in Michigan. Thanks!

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I would suggest adding a free text field to the survey.

I’d be willing to help new teams, but would rather have a developed relationship with 1 or 2 vs. random “office hours”. I’d also have more time during the offseason than during the season as just about all my free time is devoted to my school’s team.

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Agree with @Sands. We have helped other local teams over the years, but would really rather help more during the off season. We have enough going on that we can barely keep our head above the water during build season.

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Seconded/Thirded? Now in off-season is a fantastic time to stay active with virtual classes and lessons. I would also be open to not just the office hours but once the network is established using this network to offer up potential opportunities for veteran teams with fields or even just this year’s game pieces and field props to let other teams nearby come and practice with them.

We did help out a local rookie team this season but didn’t start til early February (when they asked for help, we didn’t even know they existed). As others have said this is a very busy time for our own team and I didn’t get to do nearly as much knowledge transfer with their coaches as I’d have liked to. Now that we have time it’s something I would like to circle back on with them and make time over the summer/fall to do workshops together.

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You should also add a selection for electrical.

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Great idea, would there be a way to put the mentors down geographically? Maybe having people willing to help set up on a map? This would allow new teams to see a team willing to help them close by and maybe visit their build space?

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Or in the case of Two veteran teams in semi-close proximity. We could team up to host sessions together. Romeo and L’Anse Creuse are not that far away. In-between us is also IAM Robots and lots of others. In SE Michigan specifically the number of rookie teams that pop up in our own backyard is surprising and unless we are looking at TBA data for new Michigan rookies they never get noticed.

It’d be great to get a ping from FIM when these new teams are starting up so we can help support them before it’s the middle of the season. FIM knows where they are and where we all are. There’s something missing in the communication here

Edit: the FRC team maps might be a way to help set up these lists of “Closest Helper Teams”

https://firstmap.github.io/

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I think the biggest problem is not knowing what you don’t know:) I remember that from my first couple years of coaching. You think everything is going fine until its not:)

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Or you are misinformed by the admin that as rookies “it’s expected you are new and you don’t have to build a full robot” so they only do a chassis and then sit idle. I have heard this many times. Or even worse “It’s a competition, you go, build a robot and drive it around to play the game”. Which is kind of correct except they think this means you build it there at the event. Which is heartbreaking.

These calls would be a fix potentially, but only if rookies are being forced to call in and just check in even if things are “Okay”. Because neither of the above things are “okay” but it’s certainly understandable why a new coach wouldn’t know any better and think there’s no reason to ask for help.

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Thank you everyone who has either filled out the form already or replied in this thread.

(1) I agree that developing a more personal relationship between local teams is a better long term route. I also agree that doing this work in the off-season allows for more knowledge transfer and time. However, I know many rookies and newer teams are not those who are thinking about robotics between May and November.

(2) I also know that not every team has the resources, including time, to provide a lot of team support during the season. So the idea with this proposal is that a mentor could pop in for open office hours once or twice during the build season to offer their experience and advice.

(3) I agree this idea should ultimately be one aspect of a greater rookie support system to help with sustaining new and newer teams in the long run. I appreciate all of you looking for ways to help teams around you.

Thank you all so far for completing the survey! There are apparently a lot of people who want to help!

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In the past when a rookie would be started in my area I would get a call from FiM and they would ask if I would be a contact for that team. I always said yes and several times that team did call and we were able to help. I have not had that call in years. If you could get the results of your survey organized by geographical area then hopefully someone in FiM can continue to match a Rookie team with a Veteran Team. Also I know FiM holds rookie mentor build events so if we can have several veteran teams show up to those builds then we can help that way also. Knowing the dates in advance would go along way in helping with every ones hectic schedules.

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I think this has always been true, but we all really struggle with getting our own resources directed to the right targets.

Some of the stuff (KitBot) is season specific and has to be done during the busy time so having open hours helps. I know I was in contact with people I knew when even we had questions about KitBot. We build the Am14u chassis every year for the practice, but obviously having a FIRST KitBot design is a new thing. We found bugs in the example code and we learned that a whole batch of rookies attended a workshop that used deprecated motor groups instead of followers.

(this was that workshop and I don’t blame FIM for not keeping up with every code change, but we the teams do keep up with it and could’ve made the corrected sample code for them!)

Silly things that might stump a rookie team for a whole meeting/week but we know the answer. It takes maybe 5 minutes and is a perfect way to help out.

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A sort of Robot Inspection for the team and timely enough and often enough to be of use long before competitions. The inspections must be intrusive to mitigate the problem of they don’t know what they don’t know. “Everything okay?” “Yes” “Great; let me know if you need any help.” This doesn’t work!

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The volunteer willing and able to keep regular hours is exceeding rare and worth their weight in gold.

The requirement to schedule in advance and then show up on time is a hard one to satisfy.

Volunteers maintaining continuity of information and helpful resources with the other volunteers providing similar information is very difficult. I know a lot about my robot and others know a lot about their robot but what if I don’t do things the same way as another team? Not jerking others around is hard to avoid. I see enough posts on CD about students who are dismayed that they get different stories and direction for their different mentors on the same team!

FRC tried the mentor network a few years ago. My experience with it was very poor; it didn’t do anybody any good that I am aware of.

I like the help teams idea - it’s seductive. But none of these resource sharing schemes that have been initiated at work or FRC have ever been of use in my experience. Libraries are a successful model of resource sharing but they are so much more elaborately funded and staffed.

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With the KitBot it could be that mentors doing the office hours stick with the official documentation and code only or as a mentor network we have approved documentation we all point to. Obviously beyond the KitBot is where things will vary more, but to start this would be a great place to begin the process.

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More help from experienced teams is always desired. A couple of thoughts from the ground on this one.

  1. There is a direct correlation between teams that need help and the hours they have invested in their robot. Generally speaking, the teams that need the most help are the ones meeting 1-2x a week. A help line isn’t going to make much of a difference there. What they need are bodies to show up to help.

  2. Offseason is great. I am a HUGE proponent of the off season. But many of the teams who need help are run by a single teacher…and they are taking their well deserved vacation. Additionally there are logistical issues such as buildings being closed and transporting the kids to practice. The apparatuses for making this happen in season are generally not available in the summer.

Overall I think gauging interest in those willing to help is a great place to start. Building strike teams of mentors who are willing to drop in and offer assistance on any channel is a useful measure. But the logistics of this are actually tough.

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One thing that was AMAZING at the Rennaissance event was some magnificent soul showed up with Kitbot shooters. I helped attach them to a couple of robots and get the code running. But that was also at Week 5. Let’s try to have those ready earlier in the season.

It’s something that my team is really thinking about. Can we spare some resources to help build those and distribute them to the teams we work with.

This is the kind of practical solution that can scale. Remember when we all made PPE for covid - what about kitbot parts in the first couple weeks?

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We wanted to do this at Macomb Week 5 for a team but after speaking with the LRI he advised we should help them focus on the defense as anything given can’t be asked for back. We didn’t mind, but given the time and circumstances we opted to help them make a PVC wall with whiteboard.

Having parts for rookies at the event is a great plan, just plan that it will be theirs to keep!

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definitely a donation, we were thinking we had a whole bunch of CIM motors we weren’t going to use for example

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I have seen this kind of thing happen multiple times. The story we get from rookie teams often went something like:

  • FiM reaches out to a Schools administration to advise them about the state grant and encourage them to register a team.
  • They’re assured that “getting started is simple”, “doesn’t take a lot of time”, and they can build a kitbot “in one weekend” (which, while technically true, drastically undersells the level of commitment required to be even remotely competitive).
  • Administration applies for the state grant, registers the team, and then works on finding someone to actually run it.
  • The coach they end up getting often goes into the program with very little information (since they’re only getting it second hand) and may not even start organizing a team until after kickoff. This is also a huge problem since, if someone from school administration was the one who registered the team, the actual coach is often not getting the communications they should be from FIRST/FiM.
  • Team shows up to competition unprepared, rarely with a complete, let alone competitive, robot.

I’ve also, on occasion, seen instances where events had to frantically contact rookie teams on Thursday night to let them know they actually have to show up to their competitions if they want to qualify for the grant money.

I will grant that these are things I’ve encountered over a number of years, it’s possible FiM has gotten better at this more recently, but it’s been a concerning trend to say the least.

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