Help- Out of my element

Hello, I am a mentor for a middle school team. This is the team’s first year participating in VEX V5 robotics. I recently graduated high school from a different district than where I mentor. The school wasn’t going to have a robotics team unless a teacher took the coaching position. A teacher applied for the position on the condition that I agree to mentor the team (teacher knows me through coworker).
I agreed to mentor and have started running our weekly meetings. By the time everything was set up and had arrived, it was October. Our first competition is end of January. I don’t think we will get far this season, but want the kids to learn and have fun. I took on this team very suddenly and feel out of my element. What would you suggest I do in preparation to make next season easier for myself and the kids?
When I was a student I participated in FIRST robotics as a builder. I have very little to no programming experience. There are 8 students, and 3-4 of them have taken on the challenge of programming. We are trying to learn together. The team is using Vexcode V5 Blocks to program the robot but have had difficulties with the drivetrain (different post in programming category). I have been experimenting with the program so I might be able to help them learn. Besides Vexcode V5 Blocks, what other types of programming would you suggest I learn over summer to teach the kids next season? Where/how could I learn? Besides the VEX website, is there other resources with more education regarding programming with the V5 blocks. Any responses are appreciated.
Good luck at competition!

Welcome to the world of Middle School - of course everyone feels out of their element… think about it - US 11-14 year olds! Add to it, you are there as a first year teacher-like person in your new role… Pro-tip ask any veteran teachers what their first year was like and where they are now… you will find a lot of similar emotions.

So, I am worried you are giving up on this season too soon. There are a lot of course corrections you can make to have these students succeed this season. First is have a growth mindset - meaning, they have a start and can develop their designs/code/strategy continually - just avoid the “let’s rip apart the whole robot because we lost one match”… The granularity is fluid - sometimes “how can we improve between matches” to how can we grow throughout the season. Set some team goals - “we want to have fun” or “we want to advance to worlds”… a lot of times, this goal setting helps not lead teams into dark spaces because not all team members were on board.

Weekly meetings are rough, as you are not around to help them the other days. So planning what they will do when you are not around is important. Celebrate the accomplishments, and when they fall short - help them figure out better strategies … This makes the team function better when apart and together while you are not there.

Your experience is there to help guide them - not tell them what to do… be there when it is rough - let them know when to take a brain break - or regroup when there is a meltdown. Let them know it is ok if it does not work this time.

As for coding, keep it simple - what do you want to do for autonomous to score? What do you want to do to make driving easier? what do you want robot to do during autonomous coding skills challenges? - build on it. Blocks is a visually accessible representation of what you want your robot to do. It is a great building block for coding structure before you get into spaghetti coding of c++ and totally loss … all are good for MS when they are ready for each.

I would point out one aspect of concern you left out is engineering design process - it is critical for MS to have some structure to build off … You don’t get an iPhone 16 without having a process that yields more consistent results. Just winging it is not a good idea (yes apple had its dark days with graphical UI before it got dumped …)

Best of luck - your team is fortunate to have a caring mentor!


We meet after school twice a week and have occasional Saturday builds. I will definitely discuss goal setting and growth mindset with the students at our next meeting. I did cover the engineering design process with the kids during our first few meetings, and they refer to it when discussing issues they run into while programming and building.
Thank you for this-