New Member Training

Hey all,

Something our team has been trying to work on is how we train our new members to get ready for the upcoming season. Since our founding members have left, we only have a few students who have exceptional knowledge about FRC and I’m stuck on how I can utilize them to train new students.

I currently have almost 60 new kids signed up for the team this year and I want to make sure that come build season, they are ready to work.

Thank you in advance to anyone who responds, it helps a lot!

Hey Nick!
I was in a somewhat similar situation as you this past year, and so far we have been fairing pretty well. Our first Off-season is this week, and I’m quite excited!

Keeping Engaged
Your hardest task, but most rewarding, is going to be keeping that many student engaged. Having students constantly doing things is a massive chore, but developing that hard working, passionate mindset is key to being able to teach students in the future.
An easy first task is disassembly. Taking apart something is typically easy to do and manage, but gets students directly involved in actual robots. Having students disassemble a robot then reassemble it can give them a very good understand of how different parts of the robot interfaces.
Another thing we did was rebuilding our old robot cart. New students were mainly put in charge of the project, with one older student to guide them. This gave the students a project of ownership, but allow myself as a mentor to talk them through the design process as if we were building a robot. We discussed features, such as storage, branding, ease of handle removal, etc. Having gotten to put it together has been something they have really enjoyed, and forced them to think. One new student has actually started coming in after school to continue working on it. This is exactly the type of attitude we wish to develop on FIRST teams.

The key is building a solid team culture. Though your situation may seem very difficult, this is a chance to talk with current leaders of the team and figure out what they want to change about the team. Some of the thing our team came up with included:

  1. Faster and more intense working
  2. Better Branding culture
  3. More Outreach events
  4. More team building/team bonding events
  5. A winner’s attitude
  6. A whole heck of a lot more cheering
    These new students of yours don’t know what the team used to look like, so this is a chance to let them never experience the negative aspects. Then, your team will be able to flourish in the future.

I highly suggest you go to at least one off-season event with the team’s new students. It’s a great way to hook students on FIRST, and let them know what it’s like to go to an actual competition. This can be really huge, and definitely very fun for everyone.

Mock-Designs are great way to engage students in knowing what the first 3 days of build season will be like. Find an old game video, and release it to the team at the beginning of a practice. They get to watch the video, then break into groups to discuss st as to how they would design strategy and a robot for the game. Let it go over 2 practice (with giant sheets of paper), and have them present about it half way through the second practice. Then review the game, watch early competition matches and then worlds matches. Discuss which robot design had element similar to others. This is a great chance to allow students to really get involved in designing things.

Safety training
Building Demobots
Getting Sponsorships (get them hooked first)
Strategy videos

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me, I’d love to talk!

Speaking of engagement, my team simulated a mock build season with the new kids over summer. We had them do Steamworks and meeting for about 9 hours a week for six weeks they build a robot. Unfortunately, we were unable to afford a proper electronics set so coders could not really get a chance to code but otherwise it worked quite well. We even had kids stay a few hours late after meetings to continue working as they were behind (nice to see in FRC). Definitely kept them engaged, in control, and they got familiar with what to expect.

The way you describe your team means that the most important aspect is time attention of your veteran members, and what they can devote to their rookies, and as such, this is the way I look at it.

There are certain concepts, terms, lingo that are specific to the domain of FRC. A build season, FRC, FTC, “steal from the best, invent the rest”. The “why” in why your team goes about things a certain way, and anything they need to know to get to that point. This is in the broad-term, and is the same type of thing that parents, mentors, sponsors, and students alike should know. Outreach, common competitions and activities, dedication and expectations. It should aim to encapsulate as much of the team’s ethos as possible, and re-affirm it as often as necessary.

Find Your Way
Both of the teams’ I’m with emphasize learning over rigid roles, but most students find comfort in not being a “floater”. We do something called “Subteam For a Day” to try and encourage people to find what they’re interested in and try out. It isn’t always related directly to what the subteam does (how do you do a short activity for business?) This gives your veterans a chance to see who might be interested, and who might be ahead of the curve wrt certain skills.

Mechanical & Build
FRC build tends to have a specific set of approaches and lingo. A lot of students have no idea where to start, so establishing a baseline is important. Drills, saws, marking, units. It’s boring at this point, but from there you can leap to FRC-centric designs, CAD, build principles, etc… Teach them the wonders of VEXpro, McMaster Carr, your local vendors you go to, and step them through it. It’s a lot to take in, and getting hands-on experience is essential. Nobody is Michelangelo on their first day sculpting.

Electrical & Programming
Programming and electronics in semi-unique in the application of FRC due to the nature of programming itself. You need to know some good programming habits before you do FRC programming effectively, especially for auto. You’ll need to emphasize a good structure of code, study previous seasons code (of your own and of other teams), as well as start off with a crash course in programming of your robot.

Together (once the above is done)
Applying the knowledge gained is the most important attribute for learning. As Woodie put it, “You only learn to do it by having ideally a supervised opportunity to do it.” This is why so many teams build off-season robots, or robots just for practice.

FTC and VEX are good ways too approximate the competition experience, but not the integration of domain-specific skills learned.

In short:
Programming and electronics need a crash course to get up to an arbitrary level hands-on. This is boolean logic, semantics of the language, and a lot of self-study. FRC programmers aren’t built in one afternoon, but they can be broken in one. Mechanical and build need to focus on tools, fasteners, methods of design, and most importantly safety. I’ve found Charles Guan’s “How To Build Your Everything Really Fast” super helpful during this time, but obviously not all of it applies (he didn’t have Versaframe, for one :P)

Once you have the above done, you can apply integration, be it designing and building a demo bot, an offseason chassis, or just getting people into the spirit of things, there is much work to be done. Above all else, encourage asking questions, making mistakes, and the importance of failure. (Fail in the shop, not on the field.) There’s no better time for failure-based learning than in the off-season. if it was on the field, it’d be a painful and expensive lesson!

PS: I didn’t forget that Strategy exists, but strategy is a lot of learning, trial and error. It’s learning what works and doesn’t for your team, depending on where you normally land and expect to do. It also varies event to event, district to regional, and especially at the Championship. Letting the kids interested in sports betting, “Moneyball”, or who take a likening to the talks Karthik or Mike Corsetto did in the past are prime candidates to let learn and fail strategy.

Hope that helps!

Thanks everyone for responding! I’ve gotten some inspiration for some project ideas.

One thing that might be helpful to you is the instructional video series we worked on over the summer. The overall theme is showing you how to build our style of west coast drive train. But, each video covers specific basic skills. Measuring, marking parts, basic handtools, using power tools safely, etc. Our goal was to make a series of videos our rookies could watch that would demonstrate the skills we hope they will pick up in the fall, before build season starts.

Engagement has been mentioned directly or indirectly in pretty much all the previous posts. If you don’t keep the new recruits engaged, they will drift away before Kickoff.

We’re trying something new this year, where our mentors gave us a fall challenge. We have been placed into our sub teams and given our titles, but they are still contingent on dedication - unless previously warned a student can’t commit during the off season. However, they still have to get safety trained. I’ll attach the link here for our challenge! We’re also heavily stressing team togetherness with movie and game nights, because if the students don’t work together well its hard to make anything during the season :slight_smile:

Our team is now in Year 4 which means we’re about to lose the last of our original students before they graduate.

We’ve got 50 keen students this year, 20 of which are brand new, and we’re in a similar boat. Here are a few things we have found helpful.

  1. Go to an off season event if you can. Make a point of electing rookie students to be the primary focus (drive team, scouting, pit crew, programming) and get your older students to be their “mentors” (drive coach, etc.) A few of our actual mentors will be around to help but will take a back seat wherever possible.

Even if it’s too late to sign up for an off-season, go visit one and watch. It’s so much easier to figure out what’s going on when you can see it right in front of you, rather than view videos or PowerPoints or listen to people talk about how events work.

If even that fails, book a room to watch a webcast of an off-season, and talk it through as it’s happening.

  1. Do demos in the community. We just spent a weekend at the museum demoing our robot during a Maker Faire. Not only does this have great outreach value in itself, this was a great way for our rookies to get hours of hands-on time with the robots. They learned to drive and operate, how to change and charge batteries, and how to explain what we do to the public. They got to see, feel, and try out the equipment for hours at a stretch, without feeling a looming deadline or a line-up of other team members who also need to try their stuff.

If there’s nothing going on around you, you could always make up your own. Book a room or parking lot for an afternoon to let the rookies drive the robots around. Set up skill challenges like stacking the cubes into a pyramid, or driving around an obstacle course.

  1. As much as possible set up a leadership structure where experienced students can be project leaders and take on new students with the goal of teaching them.

Hope that helps!

  1. Make your veterans excited to do the work of leading training
  2. Make your veterans do the work of leading training
  3. Set your veterans up for success with sources of outside curriculum
    2.5. No matter how much you don’t want to make your own curriculum, you’re going to make your own curriculum
    2.5.1. Make your veterans make your own curriculum
  4. You’ll have moments when leaving all this in the hands of your veterans feels terrifying and out of control - as long as you have a strong grounding in safety and “we’re all in this together”, the students will be fine & everyone will end up learning way more.
  5. Next year’s veterans can improve the training program then, don’t worry about it being perfect now

This year we’re stealing a bunch of Jeremy White’s Lazy Mentor Training System, and developing some of our own content & adaptations to go with it. I’ll publish a “clean-ish” set of our updates by… the end of the school year? :yikes: