Rethinking our FTC team(s)

I’m trying to rethink some things about our FTC teams. Our FTC teams were created as a filler gap between FLL and FRC, which meant students were typically in it for about a year before moving to FRC. I’m trying to envision what it might look like to run this differently. The two main things I’m thinking through are:

  • Should we continue to have our three teams and split any members up between them, or merge them into one larger team?
  • Should we try to run it completely independently (FTC + FRC) or continue the pipeline but maybe keep it longer (FLL → FTC → FRC but FTC lasts 2-3 years)

I know the FRC team expects as many people as they can get to help them with their bot. Then again, I also wonder if the programs are different enough that maybe students could choose. (Like FRC typically they’d join a smaller component subteam while on FTC they’d work on more of everything.)

I think mainly I think about it being an all-girls team and the team’s vibe is always that FTC doesn’t really matter because they’re just going to FRC later, and I don’t want them thinking their work on this doesn’t matter or that they are just killing a year’s time until they’re allowed to join FRC.

Has any teams out there faced similar dilemmas in the past? What have you done?

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Curiously that’s a dilemma that we (our FRC team and FLL parent organization) have encountered, but in a bit of different context.

Our middle school FLL team used to be 8th only (out of 7th/8th graders in the school). Lots of time to get experience was lost by 7th graders who would be given the goal of building on noncompetitive teams, something not considered by many students to be important or interesting (coincidentally it also decreased the knowledge of 8th graders). This year we experimented with 7th/8th graders being on the team, and had some success (many 7th graders saying they want to come back).

While this story isn’t FTC, (for me) it highlights the importance of continuity. FLL/FTC can’t just be a year to kill, it has to have some value in the hearts of the students (granted not many of our students know about FRC at that age, let alone want to join it as soon as possible).

If we ever have a in-district FTC team (soon :slight_smile:), it will probably be 7th/8th/9th because of the phenomenon you observed. With three years of continuity and education, 9th graders would pride themselves on leading the FTC students (certainly knowledgeable and engaged), and may get some parallel experience as introductory students in FRC), a best of both worlds if you will.

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FRC1089 and FTC3944 are based in the same high school, share the same storage room, are supervised by the same head coach, but are run independently.

Team Mercury (mercury1089.com)

I’m curious how that works. Is there a difference between the teams? Are people just randomly assigned or is there some reasoning behind them?

FRC2412 and FTC16750 and 20403 are run the same way. They’re run independently as the school’s concerned, and are mostly separate groups of students with a few kids overlapping. Kids sign up for which teams they want to participate in before the season starts(mostly), and do their own things out of the same space. Meetings are generally on alternating days, with some overlap at the start of FRC’s build season.

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Students simply join the team they prefer, provided there is enough space. There is a hard limit on the number of students that can join the FTC team, but no limit on the number of students that can join the FRC team.

So in my school district “in Michigan” we run our FTC as a middle school program. You sign up for FTC and are assigned one of the three teams we run (Crash, Glitch, Gremlins). As it’s a middle school program students pass out of FLL in 5th grade and are part of FTC from 6th thru 8th grade. Eventually in their freshman year they join FRC.

That’s how it is in FIRST in Michigan, It gives FIM FTC teams a big disadvantage at worlds but I think it’s the best way to run them.

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I ran FTC as a feeder program into my FRC team for about 5 years because of the interest we had in robotics for freshmen coming into our program. It started out as 1 team and grew into 3 before we decided to discontinue the program.

This setup for FTC to FRC did a good job of engaging students and establishing a pipeline to FRC but we noticed that the students were not gaining enough experience in either program to really feel comfortable designing and engineering. The two programs had different hardware structures and generally different approaches to game play. In both, I’d say you need at least 2 years of experience as a student before you really get a sense of how to plan, design, and engineering a solution for the games. There were a few other reasons for discontinuing our FTC program, but that’s one of the main reasons.

Nate

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Yeah, definitely. Also it exhausts me a little trying to teach everything to 15-20 rookie students. I love doing it, but they’re never set up to be very successful. Our FRC team wins awards all the time, I really wonder what it would look like if both programs had that opportunity.

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DiscoBots 2587 have run VEX & FRC programs since 2008. Both robotics programs are helpful to students. VEX requires minimal adult involvement which is helpful for a team with limited mentors. The downside, VEX takes away students and interest from FRC.

In my experience, FTC teams are way better at a 10-12 person size and half are at least veterans of a season. Maybe expand/design your FTC team to a 2 year commitment?

We are currently facing some leadership changes and rebuilding our FLL > FTC > FRC pipeline, so mainly commenting so I can come back to this thread later, our teams seem to have a similar structure. I’ve often thought that in these pipelines, FTC feels like the “middle child” that students typically don’t like to deal with, especially with FRC being in their future. I’ve noticed some students even skipped FTC entirely after graduating FLL, and wait to join our FRC team later on. With pipelines where FRC is too expensive in other areas, that’s a different story. But on our end as well, we are not sure how to bridge the gap between legos to actual metal robots since FTC does not seem to be in our future.

FTC was still so different from FRC that it really only prepared them in the sense of using real tools and applying engineering/fabrication concepts vs legos, I’ve noticed. We are low on mentors and leadership since 2020, and losing (and regaining!) our build space in between all of that. This is our first “real season” since 2020 hit us hard. This year, we are heavily considering shuttering our FTC team due to lack of mentors, and actually, student interest. Our FTC team this year involved all of our FRC students, including a handful of middle schoolers, and all of them voiced that they would rather do FRC after hearing some teams allowed middle schoolers into FRC. So, we talked amongst our leadership, and ultimately decided to allow middle schoolers into our FRC team in the middle of our FTC season because that is what the students wanted, and admittedly we needed the team member bodies (we had a total of just ~12 students across the board.) We even cut our FTC season off completely by the middle of January to put all focus into FRC, and surprisingly, it went really well with our first season of allowing middle schoolers onto our FRC team. And they loved it, too!

I see a lot of teams that allow middle schoolers into FRC would have them on with limitations. Meaning, they could not be on the Impact/Inspire team or the drive team until freshman year. And honestly, I’ve seen some scrawny middle schoolers, I can’t imagine a 100lb 7th grader carrying a 125lb robot on and off the field like that. It makes sense–lol! I think we will apply that to our team going forward.

I wonder how teams with FLL > FRC only pipelines operate this and bridge that gap. Going from legos to 125lb metal robots is a big leap, and something our team is brainstorming on how to fix as we bring back our FLL programs this summer.

Again this is FIM but this is how our clubs program work.

I think both should be options for the students since it depends on the individual student and what they like/what their goals are. As someone who has spent many seasons in FLL, FTC, and FRC, I’ve seen how all the levels are different. Going straight from FLL to FRC is a big change and results in students having a longer learning curve, whereas if you do FTC between its not as large of a gap, there’s less of a learning curve and you can be more useful to the team in less time. I think too often FTC is seen as just a filler between FLL and FRC, which it certainly can be. But, for some students, FTC can be a better option to stick with. In FTC you can be involved with a bit of everything if you like or you can have a focused subject, Where in FRC you kinda stick to one thing. And with FTC often being a much smaller team than FRC, students can be more hands-on with what they want (ie Code, Build, etc) whereas in FRC there are a lot more people. It is usually best to keep it open to the students to make the decision if they want to go to FRC or stay in FTC or maybe even let them do both! Personally, FRC was always my end goal but, FTC ended up really being my thing. I did both FRC and FTC for 3 years and now my senior year I’m only doing FTC.

I come from a team that originally ran FLL teams for middle school and then concurrently did FTC and FRC at the same time for the students in the high schools in our county.

The situation my team is in is a bit wonky since we didn’t really build a sustained pipeline to feed into our FRC program. Speaking about my time as a student from 09-12 we focused more of our resources into our FTC/VEX program because of it’s cost efficiency. We arguably should have dropped FRC completely and probably would have had more consistent success in what we were trying to do.

I founded a small 4H FRC team in 2014 while I was in college at the University of South Carolina and when funding became harder to secure for a 2 event minimum team we immediately changed over to FTC (in 2017), and this appears to have been the right choice as the program has managed to sustain itself much longer as a result (7 years now in FTC as opposed to folding after maybe one more FRC season).

Returning to how 1102 has done things up until now… we used FTC/VEX as a fall activity to engage our students earlier in the year before FRC season came around. The issue we found is that since the seasons do overlap you end up being ill-prepared for FRC once January does roll around. Especially if you don’t do any kind of off-season FRC competitions or specific training. (I became coach of FRC 1102 in 2018 and you can actually see the season that we didn’t do enough FRC specific training very clearly… it was 2022.)

I’m generally starting to believe strongly in the pipeline approach of offering the different programs to the different grade level students as a way to get them started early and excited about the opportunities robotics provides. My approach moving forward will be to provide FLL or VEX IQ programs to elementary schools, FTC/VEX to middle schools, and then FRC will be the only program we offer to our high school students. I think this approach will serve us better in the future as we try to build a stronger FRC team and local community participating in competitive robotics.

We run an FRC team and three FTC teams. I have found that many kids prefer to stick with FTC through high school and skip FRC entirely. Personally I’ve considered dropping FRC and focusing solely on FTC, although this will probably not actually happen. A few reasons I and some kids prefer FTC:

  • You can build something reasonably complex ina couple of weeks, as opposed to months for FRC.
  • Kids get to work on every part of the bot instead of just a component.
  • FTC bots are obviously built by kids, at least in our region, making the competitions interesting. Most of the top FRC teams in our area are designed and built by the adults; some teams freely admit to this. The results are impressive, but a kid-built bot doesn’t stand a chance. This makes competition disheartening.
  • FTC is waaaaaaaay cheaper, so we can have as many teams as we like. It takes only a few hundred dollars per season to add a new FTC team (assuming no overnight travel). FRC costs $6000 just to register for one competition, the thousands more for parts and tools.
  • FTC has a series of local meets, allowing teams to iterate their designs in between. FRC is one big competition day.

Any like-minded folks out there?

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