Adults doing everything!

At a recent event, I saw something very disturbing! A coach, teacher, sponsor (adult) working on, programming, and practicing with several of their teams bots! My students were so mad they actually took pictures of the adult doing all of this.

The legality of this is irrelevant! The VRC program and competitions are for the students, not the adults.

Basketball coaches don’t shoot free-throws for their team.
The football coach does not kick field-goals for his team.
Why would adults at events take away the experience from the kids?

This is sad on some levels, disturbing on other levels, and WRONG on ALL levels!

As a teacher, my job is to ask probing questions, give them basic STEM principles, encourage them, and allow them to succeed or struggle on their own merits.

I hope this is not the norm at VEX events. If it is, VEX and the REC has a serious problem on their hands that needs to be addressed.


Wow, if I had a teacher like that…I would feel that all of my achievements are devalued. My teacher gives advice, asks question but he never help construction/programming. Only this he helps with is cutting with band saws but that hardly counts. They should not do this and yet I don’t feel like this is wrong.

I’ll say that at least in my region It’s extremely uncommon. I’ve been in vex for 7 years and I’ve only seen it in my region once and it was years ago. I will say that at worlds it becomes magnified. There are some teams (I’m not going to name names) that have won world championships that do that. I remember I would sit in my own pits and watch adults across from me fix the robot while the students are god knows where.
Also Being a mentor I completely agree with whats been said I’d never build anything for students and they come up with their own ideas I can help them by giving advise but the students succeed by themselves and fail by themselves. It’s the adults jobs to advise and encourage not to do the hard work the students should be doing.

There are no rules stating if this is allowed or not. Past competitions, it is impossible to enforce any rules being made about people of certain age groups

OP clearly said that the legality of this is irrelevant. The purpose of this thread is not to discuss the legality of adults building robots; it is to discuss the role adults should be playing in any team.

The coaches on my team have run on a “don’t touch” standpoint, and all 3946 robots are completely student built, programmed, documented, and analyzed. VEX’s purpose is to drive education and learning about STEM in students, and the students are not getting the most out of their experience if the adults do everything.

I never said there should be a rule change. I simply meant that it is disappointing that in a HIGH SCHOOL event, adults come in and do most of the work. In 4659, all robots are student, the teachers can only offer advice and criticisms.

In New Zealand 18 is a legal adult, and I am 18 (I just had my final year of high school, ending in November. I don’t think it’s fair that there is a witch hunt against people like me just because of where we live and when we were born. I am allowed to drive under the VEX age rules (I do not have a delaying disability! I am just old for my age (because my birthday is in August))). It isn’t just a competition for “kids”. Adults like me doing the work is part of the competition.

We mean like teachers and parents

Since you aren’t discussing rule changes, I don’t really understand what the point of this thread is. Should we all just go on a pointless witch hunt on an unspecified team because you disagree with the (totally legal) way they run their team? But seeing as it’s here, I might as well weigh in.

One of the teams I mentor as a VexU competitor has entirely new members, most of them have just moved into high school, which in New Zealand makes them 14 years old. These kids decided to build a flywheel, so they did. Then the problem came about of controlling it to actually hit the goal reliably, which has been a topic of hot discussion between experienced teams, veterans, and even master programmers like jpearman. What do you propose I do? Link these 14 year old kids the Wikipedia page on PID and tell them: “here is some programming that you might come across in a university honors degree, I’m sure you kids can pick it up in a day or two”? Or maybe I should tell them “just go back to a pushbot, maybe next years game will be something you can compete in without a mechatronics degree”. Clearly both of these options suck for all parties involved.

So what I did is write them a complete flywheel controller, I commented every line, wrote a paragraph on tuning each variable, and made it in a form that it would just slot neatly into their current code, and let them run wild with it. I had to figure out vex programming entirely on my own, and it took me 2-3 years to work out how to use PID effectively. These kids now know what it is, how to tune it, and when it should be used within half a season of starting, they also have an example to pull apart and learn from. I wish that someone could have given me that, but I didn’t have anyone that could. Now that I am the someone that can, I’m not going to just throw them under the bus and laugh when they lose. I’m sure some people will think that the better option would be for me to sit down and teach them as they write it, but A. they would struggle to follow what I was saying in real time anyway, this way gives them time to work out what it actually does at their own pace, and B. they now have to teach themselves to use it, which means it will stick much better than me regurgitating some tuning numbers at them. Finally, this also lets them be competitive as they learn, which is a heck of a lot more fun for them, much more likely to inspire them to enjoy engineering, raises the standard of the whole region, and makes my job much more fun (how much would I enjoy telling said team that they simply don’t have the experience to play this game?).

There are lots of teams in vex that compete for years, and never do any good at all, because no one is willing to show them how to do it better. We can see from the lack of results that these kids aren’t learning anything, and I’m amazed they have the strength of character to keep going when they can see that none of the people who are meant to be teaching them care if they actually do any good. When I started vex none of my mentors had any experience with the system either, but they didn’t just shut up and let us crawl blindly, they taught us everything they could and learned with us, and I can look at my results in Vex, engineering, and education in general, and tell you for a fact that I don’t regret having their input and support at my back.

If you want to throw your kids into a competition and see if they crash, that’s fine, but you can only learn from losing so many times. I’d rather teach them how to build a robot that can actually compete, and then let them work out themselves how to compete well by gaining experience. A good football coach doesn’t just sit on the sidelines and yell. A good driving instructor doesn’t just tell you what the steering wheel does then jump out. With kids who are brand new to robotics, you need to get your hands dirty too, otherwise how will the monkey see what the monkey should do?

Yes, but did you do everything for them? Did you build it, program it, test it, and tune it without their input or teaching them? That’s what the OP is talking about, not the kind of mentoring you’re doing where the students actually learn something. The OP is talking about the scenarios where the mentors do literally everything except for drive the robot.

I don’t think it’s very common. I think it’s legal, theoretically, for adults/teachers to do practically everything but drive the robot at a competition. But I haven’t seen very many situations like that. I’ve seen some teams that have special needs kids involved, so that’s understandable. I think it’s also understandable if you have a team whose programmer, for example, didn’t show up or dropped out and you might see an adult help with fixing some code, etc. There are situations in which kids simply don’t have the physical strength to yank out a shaft, for example, so you might see a small line-up of dads each taking their turn trying to yank a twisted shaft out of a wheel, etc. Also, I will echo what somebody else said earlier: it doesn’t help the kids learn if they are suffering a fatal flaw because of some missing link in what might otherwise be a very good robot they built out of many hours of devoted effort. Providing some “scaffolding” of that sort is acceptable, I think.

But, obviously, I don’t think it’s acceptable for an adult to build the entire thing just so kids can show up and drive it.

But does that actually happen with the incredibly competitive teams?
I had the pleasure of spending last weekend working with team 62’s Cameron. We spent the better part of 3 days working on the robot and personally I would describe our efforts as work among equals. I am a few years older than him but judging by his High school Skills world championship award I think he is the clear cut more experienced competitor. We would pitch ideas at each other fairly the same amount and sometimes would separate for an hour to try building our own versions of the same mechanism. For the most part though we worked together building two parts of something, knowing exactly what the other wanted. Obviously now he has to spend 100+ more hours tuning and another few hundred doing driver practice before it could be truly competitive. To say I was doing anything near “everything” would be a gross over statement.

I use this example because I do not believe there is a single worlds competitive team that has ever crossed the “Tabor and 62” point, not to mention the actual moral line you are describing.

Logistical problems arise because the dedication we see people exhibit at the world champion level is never something adults are willing to put into a high school robotics competition.

The original post didn’t say anything about doing everything for them, it said that he saw adults doing hands-on work on a teams robot, and he didn’t agree that that should ever happen. I disagree, thus my post and justification.

The title of the thread says “Adults doing everything”.

@Tabor, to answer your question, no, it doesn’t happen. My point, however, was not directed towards the “incredibly competitive” teams such as 62, 1104, 8059, etc. I know that the incredibly competitive teams are truly dedicated to their robots and wouldn’t let their mentors do everything for them.

I think there’s a fine line that needs to be discussed a bit more. More bluntly, I disagree with a number of the specific examples you provided, but I do agree with the general concept. For instance, teams with special needs kids involved? A special needs kid is just a regular person with some special needs. It does them no favors to put them on a powerhouse team and then have the adults do everything for them. Sure, it might make sense for the adult to give these people some additional guidance, but certainly not at the level of building and programming the whole robot for them. And about the programmer, there’s another fine line here. If the adult is simply changing some variables, then I agree that it’s no big deal. But if the adult is rewriting large chunks of code to make the robot better, I would consider it to be immoral, even if if not a DQ-able offense.

Going back to the issue as a whole, there’s already a rule in place that teams can be DQ-ed and evenly permanently banned from the US Open competition if adults are too hands-on. Why can’t such a rule be implemented at states and worlds?

No it’s not. That’s what OP thinks they saw, but there’s a lot they aren’t seeing that happens outside the context of the short window that OP was able to observe.

There’s some tasks I think it’s always fine for an adult to do. Basic assembly tasks following a student’s instructions are ok, for example mirroring what they are building as they build. Offering general suggestions is always ok. Teaching relevant concepts (such as a new type of algorithm) is always ok, as long as it isn’t done by implementing that concept on the actual robot so that the team doesn’t have to do it themselves. Basic maintenance like making sure everything works and batteries are charged and screws are tight is always ok. Basically the very lowest-level stuff and the very highest-level stuff, but not the stuff in the middle.

But I don’t think reasonable adult assistance is limited to those things in all cases. I think it is limited to those things in cases where the team is at about the 75th percentile or higher, because adult help shouldn’t be what differentiates the top few teams at an event.

But when a team is (no other word for it) bad, adult help is much more appropriate. No team learns useful skills from driving a pushbot with no autonomous for years - which I have seen teams doing. Some teams get past that stage themselves, or with the help of other students, but not all teams do. If a team is stuck at that level, they benefit a lot from someone giving them fairly detailed instructions that will allow them to build something they can actually compete with. That’s the sort of thing that we might rightly question if StimpNZ was doing it for 62, but it’s ok if StimpNZ does it for his local team which is struggling to score in the high goal.

The benefit isn’t just the hard engineering skills they learn if the adult mentor does their job right. They get confidence from controlling their own destiny at a competition. They learn about strategy by having a robot that can actually carry out game tasks. They gain social connections and learn about how to operate in the social system of alliance selection because they have a robot people might actually want to pick. But the hard skills shouldn’t be understated either - if all you’ve ever built is robots that don’t work, you don’t even have a starting point from which to build a robot that does work. Rather than innovating to get ahead you are innovating to catch up, which is not a good feeling and not really a skill that’s needed in the real world (unless you’re making Chinese rockets or North Korean bombs).

Yes, the situation OP saw the team in was not all-encompassing, but that’s not the point; the point is to discuss to what degree mentors should be involved to.

Oh? I thought all we were allowed to do in this thread was answer the yes/ no question of whether mentors should do everything.

Maybe my example wasn’t very good, since some people failed to understand. I took the scenario to the extremes where mentors did everything. When was any thread ever restricted to “yes/no” responses?

Let’s keep things friendly.

a) It’s unenforceable except at competitions, and competitions are not where most of the assistance happens

b) Even at competitions, it’s hard to enforce. You can’t disqualify a team based on the reports of other teams, a ref would have to see it happening. And refs wouldn’t be able to let reports by other teams influence them, because that introduces bias - every team at the event could report the same team so that they get scrutinized much more harshly than anyone else, which isn’t fair. You would need a ref or refs doing patrols of the pits to check on people. I don’t think that’s a good use of volunteer time.

c) As this thread demonstrates, community attitudes on this issue are all over the map. There would be no surer way to create inconsistent rulings between tournaments than to create a rule allowing referees to disqualify teams according to their personal judgment of what too much adult help is. The drama would really be something to watch.

IQ has rules against adult assistance, but they aren’t enforced through disqualifications. Instead, teams sign the inspection form before the competition as a promise that the robot was built solely by the students.