New team, new coach, new league

Hi all.

My son is in 6th grade, his school district is starting up a robotics program, with the help of a neighboring district’s robotics team, for 6th through 8th grades. They are starting a VEX competition league that will last about 6 weeks and will be made up of entirely brand new teams. These teams won’t be going to regional competitions or states.

I will be coaching one of these new teams. What is some advice, tips, or insights you would give to the kids on the team?

Some things I think I’ve picked up from the forum, and some questions I have are…
Have fun!
Let the team members do the work.
Learn from the best robots, then put your own take on it?
Help the team create an engineer’s notebook?
You can download a default program to drive the robot? and then the team creates the autonomous section of the program?
The programs used for programming are Easy C and RobotC? If we can choose from either program, what one should we choose?
What else should I know when starting up this team?

First thing when starting a new vex team is to build a easy solid base. Record everything you do in an engineering nice book. This book doesn’t have to be hand written it can be typed like ours. For coding you can go easy c which is a simple drag and drop program which there are many tutorials on. Robot c is were you write code on this there are sample programs here is an example

task main()

This turn motor on for one minute. Hope this helps I was crunched for times so couldn’t answer all questions.

That code is incorrect if the comment is correct.

Sleep is the short version of wait1Msec(mSec), so the motor (in this example will run for one second.

Wait(seconds) uses seconds as a parameter. So if you want to run for one minute you would say

wait(60); //60 seconds in a minute.

Question about the VEX platform you are going to use. Lots of middle schools are switching over / using the VexIQ platform. (Mostly plastic, 100% awesome). If you are using VexIQ then check this forum out

Our own ManicMechanic has written some great guides:

VEX for the Technically Challenged – a detailed guide on building VEX robots, we use this for the Mentor’s class.

Robot Recipes – a collection of cool VEX robots that you can build

Clueless Coach – timeless tips and ideas on how to be a competition robotics coach

Good luck!

The comment is incorrect I ment 1 second derpy me. :stuck_out_tongue:

I’m new to this too, so you are not alone, I will tag along to see what you learn, thanks community for embracing us newbies :slight_smile:

No problem it’s actualy fun to see people slowly learn.:wink:

What else would us college students do during class if new vex people didn’t ask questions. :wink:

If it makes the new members feel better yesterday one of my college classes explained how to make a robot drive forward for 2 seconds and then stop. Most of the kids were blown away. :slight_smile:

Wow it’s so mind blowing it’s even more complex than the theory of every thing.:p:p
Also middle school would have nothing to do in robotics class some kids didn’t know how to screw a screw in.=/

Congratulations on starting a new VEX Team! I’ve been doing this for about four years now and I have a lot of experience to share.

One of the most important things I can advocate in VRC is the importance of driver practice. Be sure to manage your time effectively and have a plan for how you’re going to build your bot, and leave plenty of time before your competition to actually drive the robot on the field and troubleshoot any immediate issues you have.

Remember to record everything in your engineering notebook, including skills runs and practice notes. It can win you the Excellence Award and the Design Award as well. If you have the time, it is also worthwhile to try and design your robot ahead of time using CAD, but it is not always necessary in order to make a successful robot.

Also remember that in a competition setting, anything can happen and the day could go very differently from what you expect. Sometimes a team’s rank is not always reflective of their robot’s abilities or skill level. Be very aware of Murphy’s Law when competing, because it shows up a lot in VEX. Never overestimate or underestimate other teams, because it can work against you. When scouting teams, be sure to take other aspects into consideration besides just their robot (Their team dynamic, level of practice, strategy, etc)

In regard to programming, our team uses PROS (Purdue Robotics Operating System) but we started out in EasyC many years ago. Once we moved to PROS we found it a lot easier and more intuitive to program than EasyC, but EasyC can still accomplish a lot while introducing programming to new VEX teams.

Adam, congratulations on starting a new team. I just started a VEX team for the school district I work for with the same exact grade levels. I have 12 students. One in 6th, one in 8th and the rest in 7th. They’re split into 2 teams of 6. We’re in Maine and as far as I know there aren’t any VEX IQ teams, so we use the VEX platform and compete against the high school teams.

Going in I had a lot of expectations and high hopes for what I’d be able to teach the students. Within the first few weeks I realized I’d have to refocus my goals. The materials and tools were all brand new to the students, so they had more to learn about assembling than I expected.

I agree with your statement about letting the students do the work, but if I could do anything differently I would have initially had my students spend more time building example robots from instructions like the ones by ManicMechanic linked above. We spent a few meetings struggling with some basics when we could have used that time building example robots and gaining skills for designing and building their own robots.

One of the biggest challenges for me is organizing the students, keeping them all busy while also helping the ones who need it. I typically had them work on tasks in pairs which worked well for us. I established a protocol where they had to consult their partner, their team, the other team, and any online or textual resources before I would help them solve their problem. It was necessary since it was just me and they had 6 different things going on in the room. I should have done more to teach them how to use their resources, but it never felt like we had enough time.

I wouldn’t meet for less than 1.5 hours at a time so you don’t have to stop to clean up just as you’re picking up momentum. We meet for 2 hours and always use up the time, but some days it’s hard for some of the students to maintain that long.

EDIT: My comments about EasyC refer to EasyC 4. I wasn’t aware they had released a new version in December.

Warning, long rant follows…

We use EasyC. I can’t in good conscience recommend it to others. From the very first it’s been a pain. It wouldn’t install cleanly on any computer I had access to without me having to download and install additional libraries manually. The licensing software they use will randomly fail to load at times or won’t install correctly.

As for actually programming with it, it’s great for doing simple things and it has some useful built in functions like PID controller and driving smart tasks, but in general I don’t find it pleasant to use. The interface is clunky and the block diagram isn’t really any easier to read than actual code - in fact some aspects are more difficult. Function arguments are all integers, so it’s not immediately obvious what functions do unless you have all the motor and sensor ports in your head. The only advantage of the block diagram is eliminating syntax errors. The help files are not helpful with a lot of copy pasted text and no information on return values.

There is an option to write C code, but the text editor is painfully simplistic and not all code can be converted from block diagram to C code. I wish they made this aspect easier and more powerful.

Long story made longer, I expected more for the money we spent. All that said, you should trial it (and RobotC) before you decide and make your own choice. I’m personally interested in PROS, but I don’t know enough about it to know if it would be right for middle school.

Good luck to you and your students! You have a great experience ahead of you.

My stuff is very old and hasn’t been updated. Most notably, programming for the PIC is obsolete, though the coaching info may still be relevant.

Dave Kelly’s materials are more current:

Other parts of the site (simple science, simple math, etc.) are helpful and robotics related.

I haven’t tried it yet but I suspect the changes are mostly for VEX IQ rather than the cortex.

Just curious what you had to install, I’ve never noticed a problem.

You can use any text editor and then just build from EasyC. In fact, if you really want you can abandon the EasyC IDE altogether and use something like eclipse. I’ve never posted instructions on how to do that as it allows you to bypass of the licensing system and use it for free.

True, only VEX IQ is shown in their video. The block diagram is very different with mostly natural language commands. Logical names for motor ports and sensor ports definitely solves the readability issue of EasyC 4 (obviously this can be done with variables in EasyC 4, but it’s not baked into the normal workflow). It looks like it comes with a curriculum for VEX IQ which is nice. I still wonder what the documentation is like for the Cortex functions though.

The installer included an update to MS Visual C++ 2005 (x86) but not the initial library that it updates. Also, there were many issues with the licensing software, socx5.ocx. It was a very disappointing and frustrating experience. Not what I expected after spending a few hundred dollars on a multiseat license. Fortunately the update installed without any problems.

True, I’ve used a separate text editor for C code. As for dropping the IDE completely, EasyC is still useful for the on-line and terminal windows at least. Might be a fun side project, but I’d probably spend time on PROS and ConVEX first.

Excellent! I’m just getting to review these helpful guides, but they look great. Thanks!

Good tips, thanks. It does look like it’s important for the kids to be VERY familiar with driving the bot. I’ll get them started early if I can.

It’s a short season and probably not enough time to teach a 6th grader to use Autodesk Inventor. If I have time myself I might construct a 3D model of the robot the kids build and show them on the PC. Maybe I can pique their interest in drafting/3D modeling.

Until you mentioned it I wasn’t thinking about how a 6th grader might need to learn how to put in a bolt and turn the wrench. Yeah, I bet they will pick it up quickly but it’s definitely something we’ll cover right away.

Does anyone have any fun activities, games, or challenges that could be done at the very end of a team meeting that a team of 6 can all participate at once? You know, end on a high note so the kids leave wanting to come back to the next meeting?

What would be cool is a “Minute to Win It” type game meets “MasterChef”. Give the players a bag of parts and tools to create an object they need to use to accomplish a Minute to Win It challenge. Hopefully the kids would have fun and learn teamwork.