With the season starting, I was wondering what other clubs do to introduce new members to robotics.
We’ve usually had people build protobots and do basic programming for pre-built protobots, but I’ve felt that it didn’t prepare me for actual robot-building and leaves many members clueless on what to do after graduating from the instruction manual.
We get them thinking, have them build a real robot under mentor supervision, and by the 2nd or 3rd iteration they’ve learned how to really build and design well. It’s how I learned, and it’s how the team I was on last year went from a bunch of clueless first year rookies to a team of real contenders in just a few months. Basically, hands on is the way to go. Good luck to you and your team(s)!
We build a simple version bot that would be a decent entry level bot then let them grow from there. We are building 4 steel bots with leftover parts for demos this year, then we always have bots for community engagement events.
We are actually about to do our annual recruiting run tomorrow, so your post is convenient! To be ready in time for our regional competitions, we generally have people with plenty of experience temporarily in charge of rookie teams, and present them with a feasible design. From there, the brighter ones in the bunch take charge. For the most part it works, and we do this in order to weed out people who do not apply the necessary dedication.
I was a new member last year and I want to talk about my experience.
When I first entered the team, I knew nothing. Nobody taught me any technical experience that, well, maybe more complicated than gear ratio basics. Our mentor was relatively new to vex-- he taught architecture for 15 years but did not have much experience with moving joints and program. Older team members were working on their plans intensely and I basically started on my own from scratch. I built three prototypes, well I actually intended them to be competition robots, before they all failed. Until December last year, I found vex forum and really started to dive deep into this competition.
There are things I do and don’t like about my rookie year. I absolutely loved the freedom. I could do everything that I wanted, although most of them were not very considerate. I learned from my failures and discovered my passion. Those are what a new member should experience. If the schedule is too rigorous, new people lose interest. But what I wish I had was some more experience based guidance. For example, nobody told me that 2 motors cannot support a 1:2 drivetrain. A lot of basics like that I learned on my own.
Therefore I think building up passion is significant in introducing robotics to new people. Respect their opinions and give them a chance to indulge. Once they got involved, especially after first tournament, they will start asking and looking for knowledge, and I really do value that. Based on giving them freedom to succeed and fail, tell them some basics when you see them making the same mistake you did. Like, how directly driving a six bar with motors will not work. A little guidiance and freedom are what I wish I had for my first year, and are what we are giving to our new members this year.
In no way am I claiming to be a pro, I was also a new member last year and I had no help. We didn’t even have gears on our bot until January!! That’s how rookie our team was. We (somehow) got to states on our skills challenge score. But (WARNING: Super sappy advice but it works) what got us there was dedication. A good team has a good robot but a good robot was built by a team that really cared. And Team 1231F cared a heck of a lot about our robot. (Told you it was sappy.) But the best way to introduce the new teams is to make them work really hard and learn that not everything will work out for the first time. The more effort they put jnto the bot the better. Like I siad at the bginning, I’m no expert. But that is my unprofessional advice and I hope it helps your team. If not then oh well. Anyways
Good luck this year!
Our team used to get new members to build pushbots using old PIC controllers and steel while the seniors built the competition robots. We found this lead to them getting bored, so we have got hold of some Vex IQ and use that to teach new members the concepts of a full competition robot, but in a much easier way than getting them to slowly build a full vex robot.
This year, our competitive team has two VRC veterans, and two newcomers. We figured the best way for them to learn is to jump right in with us on our main competition robot, and we explain everything about the robot as we build it, along with why we made all of our design choices. When we were still working on CAD about a month ago, I often would explain our robot’s design and make sure everyone understood what everything on the robot was intended to do. For first-year competitors, they’ve come up to speed pretty quickly. As we guide them through the design process as a team, they get a better understanding of VRC as a whole, and get to contribute heavily to the robot’s design and construction.
I often wish I had taken this opportunity when I first started out in VEX. Instead, I opted to be captain of my own team and I was highly inexperienced at the time. Obviously, I didn’t do so well during my first VRC season; in fact, it was only during the later half of Toss Up that we started to experience some form of success, (which is also around the time I started interacting with the VEX Forum more often, I suppose). Last season was the first time we won Tournament Champions. I might have been up to speed a little quicker if I had been a part of one of the more experienced teams when I first started out, but hey, that just means I learned about VEX through years of my own personal experiences instead of being taught everything about VEX directly through working on another team. I learned from my failures/successes on my own, and I’m still not done doing so, but I’m glad I can at least pass on my knowledge to new competitors.
We’re a relatively small club - at the moment, we have approximately 13 members (they come and go a bit) - so probably have different ways of running ours than you do. However, we have 4 teams, which are all small (3-5 people). When a new person joins, we find out what they are interested in, and what they would like to learn. We have one or two experienced people on each team, and so when the new person joins, whatever team they get placed on, they instantly start learning and being part of a competition team. There is no ‘introduction to vex’ or ‘crash course’ - they just jump right into the boat and start learning (a lot like Space said). All four of our teams compete regularly at scrimmages so whatever team the newcomer is put on, they are going to be able to compete, which - lets face it - is the most fun part of vex
We also encourage the newcomers to jump onto the forums and have a look around, and talk to other people from NZ Teams, to get the gist of what vex is all about!
Funny story; Our school’s engineering PLTW club had been around a while, but the boys thought “What if we made robots?” in 2012. Well, that was my freshman year, and I wasn’t involved, so I don’t know much about what went on, except that they never competed and all that exists from that season is a picture of some VEX parts held together by string, dubbed ‘Stringbot’.
Sack Attack year, they competed a few times locally, but never made it to alliance selections. That year I was hanging around the club to work on classwork, but little by little I was getting more interested in the robots the guys were building.
See, I find it interesting, seeing all these posts about recruitment, because we’re such a small organization that no one knows about that all it takes is “You’re in PLTW? Come build robots.” We didn’t/don’t really have a learning process in place yet because we’re so new. My learning experience when I joined for Toss Up consisted of me asking what was probably too many questions. I can’t stress the importance of that, though. If I didn’t have the people I did answering my questions (albeit sometimes sarcastically and very annoyed) I would still be incredibly clueless.
Don’t put a group of rookies together, they need a veteran to point them in the right direction until they catch on. Don’t waste too much of the season on prototypes and learningbots. The best learning comes from experience. The biggest thing that helped me learn was writing the team’s log. You can’t write what you don’t know, and in my experience, people don’t like dictating. It became easier to have me log and learn than try to dictate the process for me to write.
And along with that, don’t underestimate the value of that log either. Teaching building and programming is very important, but learning how to document can be just as vital. Our team of two one-year vets, two stringbot-vets and two rookies went from a clueless group of kids that had never made it to alliance selection, to a team that made it to States, won the Design Award and advanced to Nationals.
Don’t assume just because you know something that everyone else does, and don’t assume that your newcomers know what questions to ask. It’s a team activity for a reason. We just got ten new freshmen and are going through the same process, and for us, ten in HUGE!
My team Gives the rookies some incredibly hard task such as building and programming a holonomic drivetrain. then we pick on them while they try to do it. This goes on for a few days, and then we help the rookies. But only a little bit. Then we go back to picking on them. this repeats two to three times, and then we stop picking on the rookies.
I’m not trying to criticize your method of inducting new members, but don’t you think this seems like a little too much? I can understand giving new members a difficult task and walking them through it so they understand how it works, but tasking them with doing it without any help from teammates and then picking on them about how they don’t know how to do it seems almost counter-intuitive, if you ask me. If I were in the shoes of the rookie, who was constantly being “picked on” while trying to do a task that I have little to know understanding of yet because none of the experienced members are helping me, it might act as a deterrent to my participation in VEX as a whole.
I see what you mean. We give them the hard task to see how they react or adapt, and then help them out. also, when I said “a little bit,” I mean a complete walk-through. We do answer their questions when they can’t figure something out, but we let them do it themselves most of the time. our “picking on them” is sarcastic, and we make sure that the rookies know that we’re just joking. We also told them to expect this beforehand.
To put it simply, we help them when they are frustrated and we drop tiny hints when they are confused. We’re not that mean.
PS: My signature was a setup for the rookies. My team had built a fake robot without any nuts on the screws, and one of the rookies tried to move an arm on the fake bot. I was fake angry for a few seconds, and then I told the rookie the joke.