Pros/Cons for making our Robotics Team selective?

So our team, 2415, has been around for a good amount of time, and we’re trying to reform the way the team operates. What do you guys think about making our robotics team selective? Can I get some neutral suggestions about making the robotics team selective and how you would go about making the criteria for cutting people? Thanks!

Are you aiming to get the students who can benefit the team the most?
Or are you aiming to get the students who can benefit from the team the most?

the biggest issue for the team is that some student are not committed and are taking time and resources that students that are more committed could be using, but i would prefer a mix of the two so that students can both contribute to the team and learn from it as well

Hereis a CD thread regarding lack of participation and here is another thread talking about criteria for new members.

I considered it a while back. However, there’s two issues with it:

  1. Our team mission is to get people into STEM, and by excluding some people that are not committed we’re really going against that mission. The people who were not committed are the ones we are aiming at; the committed ones were already STEM kids!
  2. Given our history of not being super-competitive (we have rarely won events), the culture is not there to attract kids. 254 for example can do it because they have a very competitive/respected team in the school. But if a team like mine were to do it, we would need to first start showing exemplary results before making it exclusive.

Do people not self select on your team? After the first few meetings it usually becomes pretty evident that the ones who are committed are the ones staying.

I really hate the idea of selecting people for FIRST, like the idea of giving people a chance to prove their worth.
Does Westminster compete in VEX (I know the team used to do BEST)? Could you use that is some sort of proving ground/training opportunity?

By the way, your team’s website is down.

We’ve held “tryouts” the past two years, originally in response to too great a number of applicants; we had about 100 last year, and even when we cut to 40, there still wasn’t enough room for everyone to work in our build space. Last fall we did a bunch of trials which combined a bit of teaching with a “test” that included correctly drawing a shape according to a not-to-scale drawing, making a minor modification to a program, breaking down the steps to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, wiring and plumbing a basic pneumatic system according to a schematic, building a tower out of popsicle sticks and doubloons (1 1/2" aluminum coins). While we did take care to note aptitude for certain tasks, but we **selected **based on attitude. We selected students who were not too-easily distracted or frustrated, and who had positive attitudes. And yes, most of the 60 who did not make the team last year selected themselves off by not finishing tryouts. The team came together more quickly and stayed on task better than any of our previous years. We were so pleased with the results that we did it again, with a few tweaks of course.

Hey Bill,

At 1648, we’ve had an application and tryout period for the past few years. Since 2012, our team’s performance and popularity has dramatically increased. In order to provide the best experience possible for our students, we’re forced to be selective about who we take; we have few mentors, and we do not have too much space to fit more than a certain number of people.

Our process starts with a basic application, which includes some short behavioral questions. One of the key qualities we look for in applicants is the desire to challenge oneself, the ability to take criticism, a passion for learning, and the desire to be competitive. While we review applications, we host large “tryouts” where the prospective members come together and do a few creative exercises and challenges, where our current leaders and mentors look at teamwork, leadership, creative thought, and analytical abilities.

Our mentors and student leaders then take a look at the applicants and how they did during the “tryout”, before they’re placed in our JV Program. Our JV Program does VEX in the fall and are members of subteams on FRC. The hope is for them to develop a foundation of mechanics/programming and iterative design in VEX, which they can then apply in FRC. A student then graduates from JV and is placed into the Varsity subsection by leading a VEX team the following fall.

Through this entire process, we find motivated students who wish to succeed, and most everyone who succeeds in our tryouts and JV program becomes an influential leader in our overall program. Typically, students who don’t have the dedication and drive don’t generally make it past the VEX season. We do try and make sure every student is having a good experience and resolve any issues in the team though, so it isn’t a hard cut.

My take on the objective of FIRST is not to develop a focused training program for students who are already STEM oriented, but rather to use the sports-metaphor model to attract and engage students who wouldn’t otherwise be involved in STEM activities. I would change your question from “how do we screen out uncommitted students?” to “how do we do a better job of engaging more of our students, and also provide appropriate activities for those who may only want to be peripherally involved?”

We accept all comers into our program, but we’ve really only hit high numbers the last 2 years. We make our traveling team selective (now 20) for several reasons. However we think that having a broad in-shop experience for all comers is very important.

Where I have seen the most success, is for certain aspects of the team to be selective, but to allow anyone with interest to join the team. Travel team, pit crew, drive team, chairman’s team, leadership positions; those positions all benefit from being selective. However I have found that teams that are selective on who can join the team often selects students based on how well they are doing in school (grades, honors classes, school leadership positions, etc.) and that often excludes the students who are best benefited by the program.

Now to play devil’s advocate and give you the pro’s. If you are selective with the team, you will often end up with a better group of driven dedicated students that will not waste time and resources. It allows you to have a smaller team, which has the potential to have cost benefits, if you provide anything to the students (shirts, food, travel…). If you are limited on mentors, it allows the mentors to be more focused on key aspects of the game/robot/team, as opposed to making sure everyone is on task. If you only select the best students, then your demographics in terms of going to college will likely be better, which will make it easier to petition to the school district for more money.

Obviously, all of these opinions, both pro and con, are generalizations and do not apply to every team. You know your team best, and are the only one that can truly understand which statements have the potential to apply to your team.

We do not have a selective team, but have discussed it with other teams. If we were to implement requirements they would probably go something like this

  1. After 1st or 2nd meeting give out simple “homework” for all students after each meeting. Something as simple as “you will receive an email from me this week. Respond to that email.” You might be surprised how many students won’t manage to reply.
  • Each homework should be something basic like that, but should require effort. Something like, research any type of fastener and talk about 3 uses for it to the whole team.

  • Homeworks completed (but not quality) should factor into who you accept. As long as they participate, they are welcome to come and be educated.

  1. Off season attendance higher than 50% of meetings. (It’s great to have other extra-curriculars, but students who regularly miss meetings can end up so far behind that they are a detriment to the other students)
  2. Keep track of student participation and work ethic during meetings.
  3. At the start of the season (Aug / Sept.) announce a specific number of students that will be added to the team. This can be flexible in the end, but a hard and fast number makes it clear early.

That probably needs some tweaking but it’s a good start. The key for us would be that we aren’t barring people based on aptitude or “ability”, we are barring them based on attitude and willingness to work as a team. Those are the qualities that can make or break a team. And students without them often negatively effect the whole team.

Our team has an application to be filled out and turned in (in April I believe?) and then our mentors go through the applications and select next year’s team. Everyone wishing to be on the next year team must fill out the application, even past team members. The following information is what I set understand to be how our selective process works (as I am entering in my 3rd year as an FRC member):

After the application process, the team is selected and we have a meeting in the summer to get acquainted and cookout and explain what is expected when being apart of this team. Make sure people know the important stuff such as the fact that they will not be able to participate in any winter sports, such as baseball or basketball (this in itself weeds out many). We explain just how difficult and intense the build will be, but also that there is plenty of fun. We have some meetings throughout the fall, along with the beginnings of our driver tryouts. These meetings aren’t mandatory, but they are very educational to new people. Again, this allows more people to drop if they’d like.

However, we try to select people that we believe will not drop out. Most people that have been on the team stay on the team unless they give good reason not to be. Even others, including myself, have non productive first years, but if the mentors believe these students have potential, they are given another year to prove themselves (I did in my second year after a rough first year, and here I am entering my 3rd year). We select based on what the students are interested in and what fields we need more people in. We try not to select senior rookies, as we do not want to become senior heavy and lose all of our experience and men at once. We do select them if we need immediate help in these areas. We try to keep it pretty level on the students benefiting the team and the team benefiting the students. Ultimately, all the students will benefit from the team, but not all students will benefit the team. And I have already said how to get rid of them.

Having a selective process is very important to creating a competitive team. I hope you find your selective process and that your team will prosper from it. :slight_smile:

In my view, becoming a selective team is one very specific solution to a couple of problems - there are other solutions out there to those problems, though! Becoming selective means you have a smaller team that is (hopefully) more dedicated. But it also means that your message of inspiration reaches fewer people. In my experience, sometimes those students who show up with no passion for it (because their parents made them, for example) discover something they love and become passionate after that first year. Other times, students may not outwardly show much dedication or attention during meetings, but you find out later that the team had a huge influence on what they decide to major in.

Unless you have problems with the size of the team, I wouldn’t become selective just to solve a commitment issue. Instead, work with the team to figure out how to better engage everyone and to change your internal team culture. My team had a commitment issue a few years back - our fall program was so poorly attended that the mentors outnumbered the students most nights!. We’ve since moved past that issue, and our fall program this year has almost been overwhelming for the mentors to try and manage so many students. You trade one problem for another, it seems!

Agreed. We started tryouts because we had too many people for our spaces and mentors. We selected based on interest and attitude, which helps the inspiration going both ways (to the student, and from the student). Becoming more competitive as a result was a side effect which helps inspire more of the school than just those on the team.

Why I fully understand the issue of some students not participating at 100% or even less look at the mission statement of First:

"Mission

Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership."

If you notice there nothing about building robots mentioned, but only mentions building skills and that can be accomplished by just observing and being present.

We have many students who do not actively participate but at times come out of the blue with a great a concept, so why would you want to stifle that? I feel it may take some kids three years to come out of their shell before they get really active.

So I say limiting kids is not a good thing unless you just can not contain them in your facility space.

I agree with the earlier post they will self limit if it is not for them.

We are a varsity lettering program and the kids that do not actively contribute in some manner do not get letters. We monitor time and attendance and have many other requirements they must meet to earn the letter. This actually had to be approved by the school system and is subject to monitoring.

Yes, it can be frustrating seeing student not participating but you have to try to engage them and understand why they are not active.

Gus,

How long did your try out last from beginning to end?

Sam

This is exactly what happened to me. My freshman and sophomore years, I was not exactly the most active contributor to my team. However, my junior year, something clicked in my head and I realized that I wanted to make a difference on my team. I threw myself into my work on 1257, co-founding and co-leading our Strategy/Scouting subteam, leading the team at-large as president, and doing a bunch of other things across the team.

Some kids take longer than others to express talent. Just being with the team at the right time can allow this talent to expressed. Selectivity should be employed when the number of students becomes a detriment to the impact of the program.

If your team is affiliated with a school system, check to see if it is considered to be a “team” or a “club.” Often these definitions will decide whether or not you can consider being selective. A “team” sometimes has to hire/pay a stipend to a coach/teacher. It may be able to have tryouts. It might have to join an athletics conference and follow their rules. An after-school “club” might be “looser” in terms of restrictions, but may have to be open to everyone who is interested. And there are “pay-to-play” stipulations in some school districts also. It gets complicated but speaking from experience, it’s a good thing to have this defined before any issues arise.

Over the last year, 1002 has been thinking about how to address this problem. One one hand, you want to involve everyone who wants to, but on the other hand you want quality, dedicated people to be on your team.

This year we are trying a new interest group system to try to solve this problem. When anyone joins CircuitRunners, they get to choose an interest group (fabrication, design, programming, electrical, and management). Interest groups meet once a week and allow students to explore these concepts in the context of robotics. Students can propose robotic/tech projects and receive funding and mentoring for their projects. This allows everyone to be able to experience our culture without putting them in a competitive setting.

We then have an application system for students to apply for competition teams (BEST, FTC, offseason FRC, and FRC) if they choose to do so (and most do!). This means that we can be a bit more selective with our competition teams while still allowing as many kids to be involved as possible. So far, its worked great. I compared retention numbers, and we are seeing a 30 member increase (~70% from last year) in people still engaged weekly so far!

The way we’ve addressed and (kinda, but not fully) solved the student engagement problem is to setup a student leadership structure for the 60-ish FRC kids. The kids and the adults work together to run the team like a tech company, and the student leaders are responsible for making sure the peers in the respective groups have work to do. The leaders came up with an interesting ‘lives’ concept, where students gain/lose lives based upon attendance and critical work executed. With this system, it looks like we’re going to lose a few kids before the build season even starts if they don’t turn it around.

From there the adults teach, co-op in execution and mediate.

Unfortunately we’ve had to turn away some very motivated underclassmen, but there’s so much available for them to do other than FRC in our program we try to find ways to keep them interested longer-term. Some of them just show up during build season anyways, which then becomes a source of contention (seriously, there’s only so much space, peer-helping-while-producing and mentor attention span). We’ve addressed this historically by allowing them to be in an observational role only, and then the next year they’re fully-involved. Oh, and I almost forgot - the grants we wrote to get extra machinery (CNC, 3D printers) have provided an entirely new avenue to recruit mentors to teach students stuff in, so we were able to up the team capacity a bit over the last couple of years. Some of the CAM/CNC work is a bit repetitive (only CNC plates at the moment) but it gets them in the door and into the longer-term experience.