Returning to the "Old Normal" - what are your plans?

States are relaxing stay at home rules: beaches opening up, college athletic programs slowly restarting, restaurants are cracking their doors open, etc.

What are you using as a barometer to gauge when you begin your meetings?

What precautions will you take in those early meetings? Will you limit attendance to specific sub-teams, grade levels, experience levels?

School district guidance, above all. A neighboring district barred visitors and volunteers from the schools two days before the shutdown, and I’m really hoping that won’t be the case in District Five.

We’re fortunate that we have indoor and outdoor large spaces within a sub-one-minute walk of the shop, so we’ll look at options to spread out once we know what’s going on. And being a multi-school team, we were already halfway online with communications. We’ve tested ways to do virtual meetings, which I hope we’ll incorporate more of even when we aren’t in a global pandemic to allow us to serve more kids.

We lost too many seniors not to try to proceed with recruitment and training (pending district guidance).


It’s an interesting situation. Apparently, roughly half the folks who have COVID-19 and are contagious, don’t know it. So, to keep from getting the virus, I have to behave as if everyone has it. That means I won’t get into any situations where I’m exposed more than momentarily to other people’s breath. Meetings will be difficult, until we get the number of active cases down to a real low number. And with the reopening before we have any way other than isolation to stop the spread of the virus, it looks like it’s going to be a long time.

So…no plans right now, about anything.


Recruitment has been very problematic. We’ve invited the rising freshmen from the middle school FLL & VEX teams. I fear that without our traditional middle school visits (that usually occur in April/May) our numbers are going to fall short of our recruitment efforts during the '20-21 school year.


My team will be continuing with dispersed activities only until the start of the next school year: fund raising, grant writing, software development, CAD classes and design work, the occasional Zoom meeting. Partly, that’s because our school district and state haven’t lifted restrictions yet and won’t for another month or two at least. It’s also because we won’t have a workspace again until the fall in any case. Our school is under construction, the new main building won’t be ready to occupy until August, but the current main building is being demolished beginning in late June, so we’ve had to pack everything the team owns and move it into storage. The first part of next season (in the fall) won’t just be the recruiting, outreach, and training as per usual, it will also be moving in and setting up our new shop space. So we won’t be doing as much for the summer, but we’ll be making up for it in the fall. We’ll also be working on something we’ve never done before, getting ready to host a district event in March 2021. That alone will occupy a lot of my time as lead mentor along with everything else.


We’re not going back to the old normal. We didn’t after 9/11/2001, and won’t after this. It’ll be another new normal, even when we have effective vaccines and/or treatments. I’m mostly with @MrForbes; every face-to-face meeting calls for risk management and mitigation.


We missed our spring recruiting drive too, since any chance of doing our usual outreach activities in our feeder middle schools was ended by the stay-at-home order. Fortunately, we have a slight leg up on this that we didn’t have in previous years. We helped start and mentored a new FTC team at one of our feeder middle schools this year, so we have a crop of rising 9th grade students that are already primed to join the team.

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It is our desire to also seed an FTC team at a middle school.

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Everyone remember that foundations and companies’ community outreach programs still have to give away the money they are required by their specific guidelines. I was approached by a local organization that needed to make a donation before fiscal year end. I got an application in that day and got the grant the next week. I’ve applied for another under similar circumstances. I expect some of the organizations that regularly get these funds are not currently operational enough to claim them.


I’ve run into a few organizations that have actually diverted funding to local food banks and such. Do you mind sending a PM about how you found organizations that are in this situation!


In that line the community support person was very interested in our covid projects and support has been framed in that way. Talking with them the cancellation of regular planned events had them looking for other ideas.

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I’m in agreement. The old normal is gone and we won’t have the new normal until we reach herd immunity by vaccine or by the hard way. Evidence suggests this will not be in 2020. We’ve been doing team meetings via zoom. Even if we can safely have small groups<1> together in fall, doing mechanical or wiring or whatnot, I suspect full team meetings will still be be zoom – unless we’re going to have them out in the parking we have no space big enough for appropriate distancing for the full team.

<1> youth protection rules would require at least 2 students & 1 mentor, or 2 mentors & 1 student


There are a number of things between our team and “regular” meetings. We anticipate meeting virtually indefinitely, and are operating under the assumption that regular activities are at a minimum months away. The absolute minimum will be school approval to have students in the building again.

When we do begin meetings, our safety requirements will be driven by public health officials and school policy.


We’ve been running zoom meetings, but they’re no substitute for real ones since we’re not really building anything. We’re going to try to experiment by holding programming meetings online. Basically I’ll have an FRC robot running in my home, and I will share an environment students can get to in a web browser where they can take turns deploying their code to the robot. The students will join a zoom meeting and I’ll have a webcam pointed at the robot so they can observe what it’s doing.

I’ll be self hosting with, and the plan is for students to be able to use vscode without having to set anything up or install anything. They could even program on a chromebook if they have to. If this setup works out we might use parts of it when we can meet normally, since it takes away the pain of having to set up every student’s computer. Typically in the past we’ve had to gather all the students around a mentor’s computer for the sake of saving time and not having any additional computers available that could run the necessary software.

For a barometer I’m looking at what our school district decides about football. If it gets nixed then it will be difficult to impossible to get permission for any extracurricular/afterschool activities. OTOH, it if goes forward then it will be equally difficult for the powers that be to ban robotics meetings. I mean, we hardly ever smash into each other!

Regards recruiting we went out on a limb last year and promoted four 8th graders to the team. Since we are only losing two seniors, we’ll be functional even if traditional recruiting is disrupted. More problematically we were supposed to move into our school’s newly built STEM center. That’s all been thrown into confusion. Oh well.



obligatory not a mentor

Our workspaces are either in the local university, which is going to stay shut down for a while, or in a school building that is also going to stay shut down for a while. We have been meeting online weekly and have been administering online classes to younger students. West Virginia put out opening guidelines and protocols as to what-opens-when, but in the end we can’t make things outside the university workspace and can’t drive anything outside the school workspace. Even whenever it opens up again, I doubt we will have full-scale meetings for a while.

The first step would probably be a few specific people who practice proper social distancing in and out of the workspace. They might make the parts to a prototype we design outside the shop online, or practice driving the robot and testing code. We also have a separate project for the university that is pretty equivalent to installing an electric golf cart system into a 1950’s-style bullet train with shag carpet, and that’s going to eat up another portion of our workload. After that would probably be multiple isolated groups with no contact between each other. Same deal, just more people. Then, steady progression with larger and larger isolated groups based on what the state’s opening up guidelines say, what the school board says, and what the university says.

Really though, anything could change at any time and we aren’t rushing to meet in person as of right now.

We are sticking with virtual meetings for now, but I could see in person meeting happening at some point over the summer depending on the trajectory of COVID cases in our area and guidance from school. I’m at an independent school in a state where lots of restrictions have been eased already. I know local high school sports are practicing/will resume practice soon.

At best? I guess we might be able to gather in person in our lab by mid- or late- June, but not unless I’ve had a chance to rearrange the space for optimal social distancing. Masks required. Likely split to subteam meetings only. The extra time away has given us time to develop some new safety trainings (thanks to inspiration from 624 and FIRSTinTX virtual conferences).

In addition to the virtual meetings for our team, we moved the recruiting online by inviting middle school kids into our summer video workshops. We’re running FLL club online and Iooking to start a younger FLL group. The FIRST@home resources are pretty good. I think we’re taking the new normal as a chance to re-evaluate and streamline in a way that we might not have tried otherwise.

Our school district has closed all facilities though the month of June with potential extension based on what’s going on a month from now. Our team leadership has been holding weekly team leadership and subteam meetings over Discord and we are planning a team CADathon to keep the kids engaged over the summer. This is also a great opportunity for our team to work on stuff we don’t need to be in the machine shop for such as business and sponsor documents, that we don’t have the number of members or bandwidth to dedicate lots of time to normally. We are keeping our meetings as low-key as possible so that our members can cope with the current situation in the way that works best for them. We will follow all guidelines from the CDC, School and district, and other official sources when (or if) the team meets next time.

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Which sports? Here, even in Iowa (which had a response many found lacking), only baseball and softball are being allowed to start soon. Presumably because most of the players are typically quite far apart most of the time.

When thinking of social distancing, I think back to all the robot assembly operations this past build season that took two or more students to do and I am concerned.

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In SC, the sport to watch is Football. It will be the first sport to begin practice and hold competitions.
We are going to follow the guidelines set by the state and district. Equally important will be the comfort level of members, their parents, and our mentors.
Initially we will probably have limited meetings: rookie training with new members and a few mentors, robot refit and repair with team leadership, etc.