Newbie on the A team

My team, the A team of my school, has myself and another very experienced VEX student. However, our third member is a complete newbie and a freshman. He is dedicated and could easily work hard, but two problems have arisen:

  1. He has no idea what to to. (he’s a noob and we don’t have time to set aside and teach him)
  2. We have nothing do give him. My teammate and I collaborated over the summer and have a mostly finished design that we are very quickly building. Because he doesn’t know what to do, he tends to get in the way. We’ve set him with a few productive tasks, but for the most part he has nothing to do.
    What are your guys’ recommendations? Our team has a shot of going to worlds this year; we could even do well in worlds if he starts working.
    EDIT: What I’m really trying to ask is this: how can we teach this newbie to work with vex parts and think in vex parts efficiently?

You are living my life right now, except double the amount of newbies. Two of my 3 teammates left to another group and for team selections, so we were required to fill in those places. I would like an answer as well to the same question because I don’t know what to do as well.

Sounds like me a few years ago. What my very team captain did was have me sit and do the most basic building tasks possible. I also did logs and online challenges. Th most important thing to do is to keep him in the room right next to you with either a laptop or a notebook. Talk to him and make a conversation. Tell him what you’re doing at the moment, and make him fell like he has responsibility. Worked great for me.

I see your problem there, but how about 2 newbies, even thought you give them enough work, it takes them 5 minutes just to unscrew a bolt. All they want to do is sit and text their friends…

It is extremely annoying.

Our team is also considering a skewed holonomic drive (somewhere between 25 and 30 degrees) if we can get friction down far enough. Would setting him in a corner prototyping a simple drivebase be a good idea? Or a bit too advanced for the moment? What about anti-tip pegs? What’s been said is already a HUGE improvement. Although, keeping him in the room with us may be a problem. We have 5 teams all in our school’s woodshop, and the dedicated VEX room constantly has people coming in and out. Distractions are immanent.

This sounds like the perfect time for a story.

Skyrise was my first year, I had no idea what to do and I joined a team with three others (They were very experienced) I sat next to them every day for hours, just looking and watching. Joining in sometimes when they wanted me to. I logged the details. It was boring work but I loved the team. Then came the first competition. We got ready and I decided that it was time that maybe I learn a few things about how the systems on the robot worked. Lucky me. At the competition, the guys left me at the booth. I was basically just supposed to be a mediocre face that gave people what little advice I had. But, out of nowhere, the judge came. The one that interviews the whole team. He thought it was a good idea to just do the interview with me and the robot. I was terrified, but I was able to keep my calm and tell him what I had learned just hours earlier by looking at the robot. I remember telling him about how rubber bands help the lift up and steady it decent down, and how a double reverse four bar worked. I was able to do this because my team gave me a little autonomy. The awards came that competition and guess what! We won excellence award and my teammates were stuck there looking at me. I hadn’t told them the judge came by to interview me, so they thought that we hadn’t got an interview.

So to give a short answer: Yes, letting him build in a corner away from distraction is a good idea, but don’t abandon him in the corner. Make sure he knows he can come to you and ask you questions.

I’ll have a response soon.

@Cody Thanks in advance. You really are one of the biggest players on the forums and I’m delighted to hear your feedback.

Nice to hear, you’ll want to take my response with a grain of salt (as everyone should with everything).

Video is going up, shooting in 4K makes big files, I’ll have to work out a transcoding workflow soon enough.

Your mindset seems to be less towards “this is a program about learning and education” and more towards “this is a game I want to win” I can’t complain too much about this, because I used to think exactly that way and many many other people here start with that mentality but that’s really not what Vex is about. It sounds all hippy-ish but everyone who participates in Vex or FIRST really is a winner. I just went to a job fair this Thursday and the people there that were hiring in many cases knew about FIRST and we’re delighted to hear that I participated in competitive robotics and totally loved all the robots I worked on. None of them cared at all that I was a World Championship semi-finalist, it just wasn’t important to them.

One of the things that as a group of teams we have been looking towards is educating newcomers to VEX at the beginning of our year (NZ). This gives us a strong 8 or so weeks in which we run “newbies” through the steps and processes to be able to compete as well as develop their own skills. This means when the new International game is announced, we have groups of students that can integrate right into our atmosphere and into the various teams. Although our main focus still lies on having fun and learning (which we agree with Cody in that it should be), it means that we are not restricted by some of the issues you are facing with newcomer or otherwise inexperianced members becoming bored or not knowing where to contribute.

If all the above fails, online challenges and tasks that teach you about the competition (scouting and asking around at competitions) are always a good bet :).

Mild (for me) language warning…

It seems I expressed my concerns rather poorly. I agree with everything you said in your video - although perhaps you should have titled it differently because most people would agree on a person being a “noob” when they take ten minutes to put a single screw in. But yes, I know he has a use. When I said “We have nothing do give him” I should have said “We have nothing do give him that he knows how to do.” There are plenty of things that need to be done, but I don’t believe any of them could be done by him in a reasonable amount of time without any instruction. (in the scale of a month) That’s what I was trying to say when I said we don’t have enough time. Yes, I know we do have a month or so to spare, but when a major component needs to me built in order to test the rest of the bot in its entirety, such as the drive train or lift structure, my teammate and I would be effectively sitting around for that month doing trivial tasks that either wouldn’t mean much to the robot, couldn’t be fine-tuned because the robot isn’t ready to drive, or would just be far more effective when the bot is completely done. (there are only so many things you can do with an unfinished product) I am completely for using this year and competition as a learning experience; in fact I should have asked about how we should teach him to get better with VEX parts. Without any of these recommendations I’ve heard today, he would either be left in the dust or my teammate and I would be effectively wasting time while we wait for him to finish. Both of those situations keep someone from learning, be it myself, my teammate, or the newbie. My apologies for the misunderstanding. (and if I’ve failed again to express my ideas clearly in this response)

Just saying, you keep on saying “We have nothing do give him” … why do, isn’t it to?

Like I said, grain of salt.

It shouldn’t be hard to train this person up to speed. Whenever one of your other team members doesn’t have something to do, which definitely is the case from time to time, teach.

That’s what this is about.

We have a training program in place for new students. Since were a community team, we take new students any time of the year, and so it clearly becomes difficult (or impossible) to just add them to a highly competitive team without training.

Our training program starts with building the Clawbot trainer. We use a 5S workstation to ensure that the new students (one or two working together on each trainer, with a mentor to help out) has all the resources they need with no spending time hunting for particular parts:

Graphics for the 5S boards are here:

New this year is the super clawbot trainer (I’ll have the additional 5S board graphics done soon to build the new workstations, and they will be posted to the same page).
After building, programming, and driving around the basic clawbot, they will rebuild it into the “super clawbot” and learn the programming of all the sensors, and write their own autonomous programs for working with “Skyrise” pieces, which we keep for training and public demonstrations. We’re still working on this curriculum for the programming training course. Also new this year, we plan to add some Solidworks training as well. Only after competing the training program, which may take a couple months, new students will either be formed into another team to finish the year, or join up with an existing team if there is space.

On the IQ side of our program, we just had an influx of 40 new IQ students all at once, so we’re doing classroom style training for them. Fortunately, IQ robots are inexpensive!

One thing you could try is to build one side of a mechanism yourself, and then have the noobie screw for screw mirror the other side. Copying is easy, and is a good way to ease into building. Not only do they actually do something useful, but can learn building techniques and how the robot works along the way. Encourage them to ask questions about why you did something a particular way.

This is how I started building, and within a relatively short time I was able to design things for myself. It’s just difficult to start out with no instructions AND no experience with the system.

Never discourage a student who is engaged and enthusiastic but only limited by their lack of knowledge. This is the ideal student for this program, and if you can’t work with him you’re really more interested in competing and winning than teaching and inspiring. Even as older students, it’s partly your responsibility to bring the future of the team under your wing.

I would first figure out if this team is where the student wants to be. Sit down and talk with him, and maybe also any adult leadership you have, and explain how you have a design concept already and you were planning on building and testing that. See if he wants to spend the year “learning from the pros” as someone who can assist and contribute, or if he would rather spend the year going through the entire process in a more hands on role. The latter experience is something he would probably get on a different (non-A) team.

If he opts to stick around with you guys, take it as a challenge. Explain what you’re doing at the start of every meeting to him, and offer him the chance at input. This will make sure your ideas are well formed and that you have planned everything out. He can help by mirroring your work (i.e. building the second side of a drivetrain, etc), or following your instructions on small pieces of things, etc. If you have CAD or good drawings worked out, he can go from there too. Explain why you’re doing what you’re doing while you’re doing it, as well. Why bearing blocks matter, what shaft collars are doing, why you picked that gear ratio, etc.

Eventually, if you keep him engaged long enough, he’ll be more helpful than you can imagine, probably within the same season. You’re lucky to have a kid on your team who really wants this.

This is one reason we like to have new people start together on a team and not come on to existing teams. We do have a few folks get on to experienced teams, but if you are all in the same level of experience to start, you have a higher chance of working better together. (not a 100% chance mind you, personalities still play a huge role in team dynamics)

We allow reshuffling of teams at the beginning of the year too so you are not permanently stuck with under performing or overly demonstrative teammates either.

Do you have enough people or money to make a new team?

Are you a private organization not affiliated with a school? If so, then good for you. We aren’t allowed to tell a kid that joins a club that he should go with these other people instead of us. School rules man…

We don’t look at our teams as the “A” team, “B” team and so on. We field 6 teams and our goal as a club is to produce the 6 best robots that we can. Naturally groups will naturally form to work on particular robots, but there is a lot of cross-pollination (so to speak). And even with that, cross-pollination, we have rarely , if ever, fielded two identical robots. Our culture is that the veterans teach the new inexperienced members as they were taught by the veterans when they were new. We really try to push the idea of (to steal from Alexandre Dumas) “One for all and all for one”. Do we want to be competitive? Yes. But more importantly, we want each member of the club to have fun, learn, compete, have fun, work hard, have fun, problem-solve, have fun, communicate, have fun, learn to resolve conflicts, have fun, learn strategy and tactics and, oh did I mention, HAVE FUN!
We have been recognized as one of the better programs in the state of Wisconsin and have earned numerous awards. We don’t make it to Worlds every year, but we have qualifed at least one robot and occasionally two for for worlds in 4 of the past 7 years.