Middle Schoolers in FRC

#1

Hey All,

I’m looking to compile a list of any FRC teams who allow middle school students on their FRC team or who regularly recruit middle school students. This is for the purpose of helping 5686 expand a little in membership.

I am aware that teams like 330, 973?, and a few others have middle schoolers. Anyone else?

What kinds of issues, if any, have you run into? What have the positives been?

#2

1640 has 8th graders

#3

Can you expand on my other questions please?

What pros and cons have you seen from involving younger students?

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#4

While not middle schoolers, if you would like a more extreme? case of students in lower grades participating in FRC 7413 Plus Ultra comes to mind. At least from their social media presence, their sell was that the average age of a student on their team is 12, with a 5th grade driver. While I’m not sure the exact rules of who is allowed to particpate in FRC, they did build a comparable robot that focused on cargo and defense.

In our area, 1622 has had an 8th grader or two and the gist of what I’ve heard is that its a self-motivated and driven student who has a higher level of maturity. I haven’t heard of them having issues with pulling the odd 8th grader or two and the mold works well for them. Same goes for my knowledge of how 1902 does it. (If anyone from either of these teams wants to expand on their process of allowing middle schoolers on that team, feel free :smiley: )

In my opinion, the main takeaway from this all is while younger students would benefit from participating in FRC, there’s a certain level of maturity, motivations, and self-starting needed from the part of these younger student to “keep up” with high schoolers. This isn’t meant to discourage younger students from participating in FRC, but rather to say that for most, there may be a better FIRST/ robotics program to serve their needs (FLL, FTC, VRC) at the age they are, with the ability to join FRC when entering high school. While it’s nice to have an extra set of hands, if it’s counterproductive to the workflow of the team, what trade-off is a team willing to put in to allow younger members on the team?

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#5

We had an 8th grader on the team this year because he really succeeded in FTC and was interested.
He just shadowed the team and helped out when needed.

#6

Oh woops I skimmed and missed those other questions. I’m new and not really qualified to answer those. I’ll see if someone else from 1640 leadership wants to comment on here

#7

My team, 2102 has had several 8th graders over the years, though we generally don’t actively seek them out (we have no shortage of members, 60+). However, when we have an 8th grader seek us out, we’re more than happy to bring them on board (maybe one a year). We find that the ones that seek us out tend to be more mature and valuable sooner that if we had a flood of 8th graders coming in.

Our usual approach is to recruit at middle schools for getting them to choose to come to our high school (they have a few choices in my area), with the goal of getting them as freshman, but usually not as eight graders.

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#8

668 has had middle schoolers in the past, but not during my time (the past two years). We don’t actively recruit middle schoolers, but are open to requests from kids who seek us out. Two of our current students started with the team when they were in middle school, and having the extra years of experience has made them very valuable team members. But that might be selection bias - kids who seek out the team in middle school are probably more dedicated/enthusiastic going in than the average member. In my view, the biggest pro is just upholding our values - we’re a community team and we strive to make STEM education accessible in our community. Letting in middle schoolers who don’t have access to FLL is part of that ethos, as is accepting high school kids from other schools.

Overall I think it’s been a positive thing for us, although as I said I wasn’t here when they were actually in middle school and might be unaware of the issues. But my team draws a pretty firm line for discipline, and I expect any issues with middle schoolers would be dealt with the same as with high schoolers - if you’re being unsafe, distracting others, or causing any other problems we’ll send you home for the day. If it becomes a pattern we’ll meet with your parents.

#9

We allow 7th and 8th grades to join the team, but do not actively recruit them. In practice, this has only resulted in a couple joining - one is currently a senior, and joined back when her sister was a team captain and both her parents were mentors - it didn’t make much sense for her to stay home alone all build season! Another is currently in 7th grade. She saw the team many years ago at a demo and wanted to join ever since… she’s helped us once a year as a “consultant” to design and make the sponsor stickers on the robot (which her family donates) - she still does that now that she’s an official team member, and they look better than ever!

We’ve had a few others “try out” the team in the fall, but ultimately decide not to stick with it for build season. We essentially say that younger students join in the fall, which lets us see how they fit in with the team and then have a discussion with the parents about what’s best for the student - sticking with it or waiting until they’re older. It’s a combination of looking at maturity and comfort levels.

As far as the team, as a whole, goes, I haven’t seen any cons, only pros. Younger students tend to have more buy-in later in their career. They tend to do better, and move ahead of the curve of their peers (reaching leadership positions soon, contributing more, etc) on their successive years, which makes sense - it can be a great boost to the team’s confidence and abilities to have someone experienced sharing that experience! They also act as recruiters, making their graduating classes more heavily involved with robotics than other classes (We’re graduating one of our largest and most capable classes this year!).

For the individual students, however, there can be difficulties. They’re often working with much older students, which can be intimidating - you need to make a real effort to ensure the team is inclusive and supportive of all members, and make the younger members feel valued. They’re often shorter than the average student (but not always!), which can make using shop equipment difficult, or introduce difficulty with working table heights - and issue not necessarily limited to younger students, but something to keep in mind. There are limits in STIMS for registering with the team online - I believe the age limit is 13. We ran into that when we did our registration push last fall, and had to wait until the 7th grader had a birthday to get her registered.

The last issue really comes into play much later - 6 years on a team is a lot. For many students, by the time they’ve hit the end of their 4th year, they’re ready to move on. They’ve learned what they can, they’re inspired, and want a new challenge. 5 years doesn’t seem too bad, but that 6th year can be a bit of a burnout. They’ve seen it all, done it all. I think it’s important to get them to shift around and get involved with something new on the team so they have a new challenge that they aren’t already an expert at.

There is a hard upper limit (12th grade), but a soft lower limit - a recommendation of 9th grade, but you can go lower if you want. The decision, for us, came down to the Minnesota State High School League bylaws. As FRC is an officially sanctioned MSHSL sport, we go by their rules, which state sports and activities are eligible for 7-12 graders. Schools may make other limits, but we want to be as inclusive as possible, and it’s nice to have a hard floor provided for us.

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#10

We’ve had 7th-8th graders on the team the past two years, and involve 5th-8th grade in offseason training.

Pros

  • Team culture is more stable/sustainable as a smaller percentage of the team is graduating each year, and the extra year or two of overlap makes it easier for cultural norms to be passed down naturally.
  • The younger kids have extra time to “get it” before the team needs them to take on significant responsibility
  • There’s no shortage of things to learn, the extra year or two of training time helps build confidence, and they develop a robust skillset with enough years left to apply it as a student

Cons

  • In some regards we relied too heavily on cultural norms being passed down organically, and now we have to reign in and retrain some behaviors due to lack of diligence on our part (collective investment in keeping the shop organized, being able to load out/load in efficiently, etc.)
  • We need to be cognizant of the burden placed on the older kids and make sure their experience is their own (at least most of the time), and not about teaching/training/managing the younger ones.

It’s not really a con, but I’ve modified the order we do training for some of the younger ones to accomodate them being physically smaller, especially fabrication training.

The middle schoolers have the same expectations as the older students as far as maturity and personal responsibility. Before they are brought into the FRC team they are expected to manage their own schedules, communications, and academics, keep themselves in the loop, conduct themselves professionally at meetings and events, and strive to be a good team member. For next school year we’ll (probably) also run an FTC team, so some of the younger ones will do just FTC and some will do both teams.

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#11

We don’t turn away interested 8th graders, but we also don’t openly advertise our team to them like we do with High School students. This year, our best new manufacturing student was in 8th grade, and he will be taking a leadership position next season

#12

We have always allowed middle schoolers on 1551. The pros and cons of middle schoolers are pretty much the same as the pros and cons of any other students. We have a 6 pm break for dinner and homework every night, and some of our middle schoolers go home at that point, and that’s fine. They also don’t tend to put in the extremely late weekend hours that crop up as build season goes on, which is also fine.

Middle school participants make great freshmen make astounding juniors and seniors.

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#13

Just keep in mind that some school districts have 7-8-9 middle school and 10-11-12 high school, this is what 1678 has. So technically we recruit HARD for “middle school students” that are in 9th grade.

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#14

Team 5675, Mattawan WiredCats, have had middle schoolers on the team since their beginning. Most of them are from the local FTC team and are invited to participate on the FRC team. Mostly 8th graders.
The only restriction the middle schoolers have is that they cannot be on the drive team. Not sure if that is a FIRST thing or our own rule. Other than that, the middle schoolers have the same expectations and responsibilities as the high schoolers on the team. We (as in the mentors) are very cognizant that the youngsters don’t have some of the skills and experience and therefore take a bit of time to get up to speed with extra training and such, but for the most part our middle school students are very productive members of the team and are not considered “junior team members” or any other nonsense like that.
This is also a great way of introducing the soon-to-be 9th graders to some of the current high school students and has helped with that middle school to high school transition. It really does help when an upper classman greets a newbie with a smile and wave!
We do try to somewhat limit middle school participation on the team. We try to only accept those students that are mature enough and have some background with robotics already, but exceptions have been made.
TL;DR: 5675 has enjoyed much success with integrating middle school students onto the team.

#15

It better not be a FIRST rule, because our (lower mechanical) driver this year was an 8th grader, and he was great.

#16

There is no rule prohibiting this

#17

2079 has allowed 7th and 8th graders in my time with them. For 8th grade, having a parent closely involved is recommended. For 7th, it’s more strictly required. Sometimes they are younger siblings, but not always. From my understanding there haven’t been any prominent cons due to being a community based team and having that parent involvement. I don’t believe they’re allowed to be on drive team.

#18

I know. :smiley:

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#19

This year 2220 allowed a larger number of 8th grade students on the team than ever before. Almost all of these students were recruited through the community camps we run or through demos at the middle schools.

There are definitely issues with students who aren’t really able to stay focused without a lot of guidance, but we’ve been fortunate in that most of them are very active. A huge chunk of our electronics were done by an 8th grader who has become an absolute wiring machine.

Overall, they aren’t really that different from 9th graders. They need specific and achievable tasks to do in order to be successful on the team, and we’ve only recently become better about providing that for them.

#20

971 has occasionally had a middle school student on the team though it is usually because they have been attending with an older sibling and were around so much helping out that they became a member by default. However, as our team has grown, we have made it a policy that we don’t take middle school students just because we can’t handle the numbers and not because there is any trouble with younger students. We have more than enough students to keep track of without adding middle school students.

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