Student-Centered Policy Document

When defining what constitutes a novice it is much better to focus on principles than city gritty details. Getting too specific will both leave out students who need more guidance, and open a door for those looking for a loophole (and shouldn’t need an adult past the safety net).

Novice team is a tough concept with a spectrum of answers. It goes beyond the experience of the individual members and into team dynamics. I personally think an adult telling the students “pick this team, don’t pick that one” should violate at any level. On the flip side of the coin helping an overwhelmed student think through the options should be appropriate.

Size of the team might also play a factor in this, though again it would be easy to find the exceptions to any rule that is written. And of course there is a very wide spectrum that could exist. One extreme (that should never happen) is an adult giving detailed ordered list of team rankings to pick from with an expectation of no deviating. The other extreme being no adult involvement. But where do you rate the adult discussing principles in the days before the match? Where do you place the adult who on the day of the match helps a student clear and focus without answering any question?

One should also keep in mind that some rules are essentially unenforceable short of complete separation of the youth from the adults.

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I agree, that it is ambiguous the way term “novice” could be interpreted and that principles would need to be spelled out even before going into specific examples.

Few weeks ago there were a couple of posts in China Teams at VEX Worlds thread that I really wanted to reply to, but didn’t want to take it off-topic. However, it could be more appropriate here.

Unfortunately, what both @sarah_97963A and @MasterCole describe seems to be not uncommon.

I suspect that some adults may consider VEX as a more sophisticated version of LEGO, where you could give kids a box full of parts and then expect great results to happen through the magik of the discovery learning.

I have mixed feelings when I see a VRC team that made it to the States with a robot that has no bearings on the drivetrain or lift. On one hand, I should be prizing them - since they persevered despite the headwinds (and ridiculous friction losses of the square axles grinding in the square holes). On the other hand, while I don’t know the exact reason why there are no bearings, I feel bad for them, because either they weren’t given advice when they needed it, or wasn’t told to pay attention and learn from other teams or, even worse, had an option to get help - but didn’t.

I cannot help but think it were adults that failed to give them early guidance, when it was most important, resulting in a season with a lot of missed educational opportunities. There is a chance that some really dedicated kids will realize that there is a lot to learn to get good at robotics, and for the next seasons they will seek (with double the energy) necessary knowledge from their friends, teachers, and online resources (like what @sarah_97963A and @MasterCole are doing).

However, I afraid that for each team that keep doing VEX, there is another one (or more) that simply gave up and left.

Even though it may seem obvious in retrospect that, for example, you need bearings for the square axles in the square holes, I couldn’t blame kids for not figuring it out on their own. Not everyone is like Gauss. I did plenty of embarrassingly dumb stuff at that age.

Unlike the simple LEGO contraptions, to build a VRC robot, that is competitive on the State and Worlds level, you need to understand much more than you can feel and touch with your hands.

For example, back in the Nothing But Net season to be competitive your flywheel had to be much more accurate than what was necessary for the Turning Point. My son’s team had flywheel that was almost accurate but still somewhat unstable. It seemed like all you had to do was to tweak a few PID coefficients, which they did for weeks without any improvement.

The technical problem was the large amount of measurement noise from the round-off errors of the encoders running close to the top of their speed range, and the solution could be as simple as one extra line of code applying exponential smoothing to the input measurements. ([1], [2], [3], [4])

However, it was much harder to overcome non-technical issue with their interpretation of the VRC “student-centered” rules as “no advice shall be taken from an adult” (especially if it is one’s parent, lol). I understand that proving independence and refusing help is a perfectly normal teenager thing.

When we teach physics, we don’t give each student an apple on the first day of school and expect them to independently derive Newton’s law of gravity by the end of the year. Instead, we teach students theory and help them to understand it through guided lab work and exercises.

Similarly, you cannot realistically expect students, that didn’t even take Principles of Engineering or Calculus 1 classes yet, to independently arrive at understanding of advanced topics like dynamic torque balance or how PID relies on derivatives and integrals, let alone how measurement noise affects stability of the PID control.

You can accuse me for trespassing into the brightly colored territory, but I couldn’t just sit back and watch my son’s team struggling to tune their flywheel because they had no idea what measurement noise was and would refuse to accept any help. So, while not forgetting that it is their robot and it is up to them to decide what code goes to the competition, I borrowed it to run my own experiments. Then I posted results to the forum for everyone who may have similar issues to see. Turned out the problem was common and other teams were struggling as well. If somebody else had solution - they kept it very secret.

Only after solution was made public and other people found it useful and started adopting it, then my son’s team decided that, maybe, they should give it a try. :smile: Eventually, I posted our flywheel PID code to the forum in case it could be useful for anyone else.

Luckily, students’ desire to excel in VRC makes them much more receptive to the advanced topics. My philosophy here would be to take advantage of such educational opportunities and maintain fairness by making answers and help available to any and all teams that want to learn.

I hope everyone agrees that the end goal of inspiring and educating students could be achieved best by balancing of students’ doing their independent work and adults providing them with supporting (age appropriate) knowledge. It is just tricky to get that point of balance right.

I wish RECF could, actually, add to the document more encouragement for students to accept help from adults in a way that is fair for everyone, and explicitly point adults to the resources at STEM Labs http://education.vex.com, where they could find both additional educational materials and guidance on how they could help students to learn, without crossing any red lines and giving anyone unfair advantage.

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I have used my Admin rights to remove the image that was included in this post because the post singles out an REC Foundation staff member. I am not deleting this post because I do want to encourage open and professional dialog but I do not feel that including the name of the sender and her email address is appropriate. Additionally, this email is from 2013 and we do not know the reason the request to speak to an adult was made and does not include background information regarding the issues leading to the request.

  • Dan
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That is reasonable decision you are allowed to make. In terms of context, as @B-Kinney mentioned I had already posted the conversation publicly to the Vex discord. The only reason context wasn’t given here was it not really mattering to the discussion here. And I didn’t want to get bogged down in a specific conversation.

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Please let’s not try to dissect an email conversation from 2013!!! This honestly feels like a witch hunt against the REC Foundation and / or and RECF staff member from 6 years ago. The focus of this thread is to get feedback on the Student Centered Policy Document. The community has asked for the REC Foundation to be more transparent and consider the community feedback before implementing policy changes. I’m really, really trying to accommodate that. If some people in the community are going to bring up perceived wrongs from over 5 years ago, we are not going to be able to all work together to improve the experience for students, coaches and EPs.

Thank you.

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What you said creates a new question. If a team is very obviously not getting the solution, even with guidance, is it ok for the adult to come up with a parts of the solution, or even the whole one?

Edit: I understand that the policy document states adults cannot do this, but what if there is no other way? Like @technik3k stated, some students may not be advanced enough to grasp more complex solutions, and may end up getting infinitely stuck.

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Yes, this is the REC Foundation intent. Obviously there are cases where the REC Foundation will work directly with an adult even if the student initiates a conversation (for example if there is a charge of harassment) , but I communicate directly with students on all types of requests and issues. The adult is copied but is not participating in the dialog.

Thanks,

Dan

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Firstly, let me say that i really think this document is definitely the right direction from RECF, of course we need to give time for RECF to make adjustments to the document and also to change the mindset of adults (which I want to believe, it is a minority) when dealing with student participants.

2 things that struck me…

  1. Totally agree with @technik3k over here.

I have written my personal belief and also how my club is run in this thread:

Looking at the document, I am glad that I should be mostly green, with a few yellow here and there.
I am just fortunate that the club has managed to build up a core team of seniors that are able to conduct training for the juniors and newbies.
But not every club has this luxury, so for those clubs that have no seniors, I would think that the responsibility to train the newbies will be on the adults?

I confess - i do monitor the junior teams’ designs closely. They will run through their ideas and designs with me, before the actual building. This is because I want to ensure that their ideas are within their ability level, eg. if an one-month old team came to me and wanted to build a dr4b traybot as their 1st robot, I will definitely asked them to reconsider and might even point them to a huge clawbot instead, so… is that a red or yellow (for novice)?

And even for this portion "Adults organizing mock game scenarios to develop students’ teamwork and communication skills. " (which is a yellow).

I mean… there were so many times that when the teams were having their practices or mock matches in the lab, then something might just popped into my head and I will play the devil advocate and say - "wait… what if the opponents do this? or what if this happen? are you guys ready for this? "

So… is that also a yellow?

  1. As for the scouting… I do feel that adults should be allowed to sit by the spectator stands and help the teams to fill up the spreadsheet (done by the teams).
    I feel for those really small teams, especially those 1-man teams… eg. 1103 and even 2921 (during sack attack) - which george was practically a 1-man team.
    I really couldn’t imagine how to split the body up to maintain the robot and sit at the spectator stand to do scouting at the same time.

And another common occurrence - what if the adult mentor saw a really good team/robot, and then went over to the team and said - "did you guys notice team xxxx? " and maybe because of this tip-off, team xxxx was selected during alliance selection.
so… is this a red or yellow?

Just want to reiterate that i believe this document is the right way to go… we just need to iron out the kinks, so that everyone will have a common understanding.

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Oh man, this brings back memories for me…

I first heard of Vex from a school announcement. I went to the information meeting for it, which basically consisted of “this is the game video, now form teams.” I got in a team with three other people with no experience, and I had no instruction other than “these are your parts, now build a robot.”

My team that year had no direction. We half-heartedly tried to build a clawbot, planning to modify it later to be better, but we didn’t finish making the drivetrain before we gave up. I ended up saying “screw it, no more Vex for me” two weeks after the schoolyear started.

A year later, I was invited to join an existing team. One person on the team had experience with Vex before. We helped each other build the drivetrain, then the intake, then the linear puncher… Before we knew it, we had a working robot. Towards the end of the season, I ended up becoming basically a one-man-team, and learned a ton about both building and programming. And I made it to Worlds!

The first week of Vex is the hardest for any new student. I had no idea what types of metal there were, what types of nuts and screws, or what bearings did. Without some sort of guidance for that first few meetings, students will never become successful. Whether this comes from an adult or from more senior students will depend on the structure of the club, but it’s vital for all students to learn the basics fundamentals of Vex parts and programming. If kids don’t get this, they’ll be dissuaded from learning by discovery and this could significantly harm their passion for STEM.

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Oh…I just clapped stuff together until it worked.
When I become the leader of my club next year I’ll make a training course. That would’ve helped me a lot

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So here is the crux as I see it. Monitoring is hard to get right. When I hit it just right it feels great. More often, I am in the near miss category.

Someone described some people as seeing this as a box of legos. Guess what, I have seen more than one kid stymied by the vastness of a box of legos with no guidance.

I guess the big thing is a general principal. All adults should be working to see the day they sit back and simply enjoy the show. All intervention should be done to assist learning.

Novice teams have no business winning worlds. But they shouldn’t suffer embarrassment of a bit that fails to score a single point. They need enough guidance to help them stay in the game.

There is no area in which all teams will just naturally “have it.” They need enough room to have failure, yet enough support to keep trying.

Ideally, we adults only ask questions. Reality is that sometimes a lot more is needed. But if we agree to the principle of student centered activity things will move in the right direction.

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Yes, but not right away, and not with a ready solution, which I will explain below…

We are lucky to have many senior teams doing early reveals every season. If a student feels lost, there is nothing wrong with an adult watching those reveals or public forum posts together with the student helping to understand design or a concept.

“Student-centered” term is frequently used in context of the Project-based learning (PBL), sometimes also referred as Active Learning or Problem-Based Learning.

There were a number of studies that came to conclusion that the best way to teach STEM subjects would be an Active Learning process. At the beginning of the class students are asked to solve a problem for which they may not have proper background knowledge. They are likely to fail at the first attempt, but will then become much more receptive to the theory and will better understand and remember it, which will let them solve similar problems in the future with much greater success. ([1], [2], [3], [4])

VRC is a great example of the Project-Based Learning, where students, faced with an interesting and engaging problem (game), are expected to actively seek the knowledge required to solve the problem. They are expected to be the driving force behind their own learning process. However, it would be a mistake to think that teaching becomes irrelevant in PBL - it is still a very important element of the process.

“Active learning doesn’t just happen; it occurs in the classroom when the teacher creates a learning environment that makes it more likely to occur.” [5]

Anyone who thinks that there is no place for the adults to interact with VRC teams beyond the very basic topics, simply doesn’t yet know how Active Learning is supposed to work.

Even though by their senior year a lot of students are more experienced in VRC specific tricks and techniques than their mentors, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing else for them to learn. And, as long as there is something to learn, there is a place for teaching.

Sometimes the best way to teach a specific topic is to let students experiment on their own, sometimes it is through an engaging lecture, and, in most cases, somewhere in between.

In the ideal case, when a VRC team gets stuck, they will look at what their peers are doing and, if they are stuck too, seek an external advice.

My priority as a mentor is always to teach kids how to recognize when they are stuck because they are missing an important piece of knowledge. Then they need to learn that missing piece, instead of continuing tweaking the same set of numbers or gears for weeks, without really understanding how it works or why it doesn’t.

I think, a lot of misunderstanding may come when people, not familiar with Problem-Based Learning process, will skip over the introduction pages right to the Green-Yellow-Red examples and could draw an erroneous conclusion that adult involvement is always bad and must be avoided.

If anyone didn’t know about Project-based learning before, I would highly recommend you to first read its Wikipedia entry and at least a couple of newspaper articles that I linked above.

Then re-read the first two pages of the Student-Centered Guide from the OP - I bet you will see it in very different light and all the terminology will start making much more sense.

I agree with multiple posters that it would, probably, be better to de-emphasize the examples section, and make introduction part shorter on definitions, but more focused on Active Learning principles, where learning through initial failure is more beneficial than winning, but failing to learn.

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I had some time to re-read this thread a few more times. Everything, including the proposed document and the comments, makes perfect sense. And the more times I read it, the more I like the first (and a half) page of the Student-Centered document and the system that @meng describes (with the senior team playing an important role in the teaching process).

However, when it comes to definitions of the \color{green}{Green}/\color{#eebb00}{Yellow}/\color{Red}{Red} columns I start having doubts. Even if the final document will incorporate thorough corrections that @nickmertin and other posters have suggested, I sill have hard time imagining how one could derive our dream system from the current document format.

Somehow, it doesn’t feel like you can enumerate your way out of the bad behaviors that this document is expected to combat. Life is always more complex than the rules that could fit on a few pages (before they become too long and hard to follow). Spelling out dos and don’ts will help some, but anyone who was inclined to break the rules, will either find loopholes justifying their behavior, or will outright disregard them and conceal the evidence.

Also, if the rules and examples are over-complicated and/or confusing, that will lead to more people misunderstanding them and err on the side of caution, resulting in denying students much needed help and advice.

So, I was thinking if there is a way to replace color coded rules (where green implies goodness and red implies threat of enforced consequences, if caught) with more effective way of persuading everybody that there are more benefits in following student-centered learning approach.

With the exception of the very small number of cases, where winning the trophy may be tied to the future funding of the team, vast majority will agree that the winning trophies is not the only goal or feedback mechanism to indicate that they are doing and learning right things.

Perhaps, if we hold back some judgement and re-formulate color coding rules into giving adults instant feedback and guidance, it may work better.

For example, if you find your team in a specific color coded column, then:

\color{green}{Green}: Students are doing great! They are well on their way of learning how to be independent both in technical and organizational skills. They know how to effectively collaborate with their peers or do independent research, and when to fall back to seeking assistance from mentors. Please, keep giving them positive encouragements, and reminding them that making new friends is just as important as winning.

\color{#99B00d}{Lime}: Students had certainly made a lot of progress. They learned a lot, but may still need some help in mastering their organisational and/or time management skills. Please, remind them that there is great amount of knowledge that they could learn from other teams, online resources, and adults. Please, keep giving them positive encouragements, and reminding them that making new friends is just as important as winning.

\color{#ddaa00}{Yellow}: Students have great potential, but still have a lot to learn. They may have mastered basic building and competition skills, but still need help to make their learning time more effective. Please, don’t leave them struggle on their own. Encourage them to communicate more and learn from their more experienced peers. Encourage them to ask questions and find some regular time to discuss with them what they have learned so far. Please, keep giving them positive encouragements, and reminding them that making new friends is just as important as winning.

\color{Red}{Red}: Students are clearly struggling. It is extremely important for them to learn how to be independent. They need to learn basics and you may need to consult somebody with experience of student-centered education to devise a game plan. Please, keep giving them positive encouragements, and reminding them that making new friends is just as important as winning.

The main idea is to combine assessment of where each team stands (based on color coded examples) with the positive actionable suggestions of what they should do.

Most parents are not getting into the red territory because they want to sabotage their kids’ learning process, but because they don’t know themselves what else they could do to help their kids succeed.

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Adding on top of what you said, I propose that instead of defining behaviors with colors, we would use a scale from 0 to 10. 1 being least desirable and 10 being most desirable. 0 is flat out illegal.
As @technik3k stated, there is no clearly defined lines, and the same situation can be legal and illegal depending on the context.

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I think one of technik’s main points was that creating an “illegal” state allows the creation of loopholes and fosters rule “breaking”. One (albeit extreme) analogy of this might be decriminalization vs. criminalization of drugs and the formative results of the decriminalization of drugs.

Personally, I feel that this, having a formally written “guideline” rather than a set of explicit rules (not to say that the punishments for these things should be removed, it doesn’t completely parallel drug laws, of course), is far more productive. It introduces a new source for parents and mentors who aren’t just competing vicariously through their kids/students, but rather are too involved because they don’t know a better method of educating those kids and students. Giving them this guideline makes a clear pathway to what is known as an effective way to approach STEM Education. Having as few as possible, but still enough to convey the levels categories is particularly effective because it reduces the “gray area” type of issues but also makes it a lot easier to actually create rules. I would rather have many, many categories than have 10 levels for a few categories.

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Really great discussions and right direction by RECF. However, I can’t seem to get over the green/yellow/red designations. Maybe it’s just mainly the yellow sections. Green and red sections seem pretty straight forward. By making this “this is ok, this is not ok, etc.” we are trying to define what can or can’t be done, and there lies the problem. There’s lots of grey area, and a lot of it is subjective and situational.

Kids aren’t born already with all the know how in robotics, engineering, programming etc. They mostly have to be taught. Take for example, in the document a lot of green and yellow for programming centers around adults teaching basic programming concepts. Fundaments are things like loops, conditional statements, syntax. What about more complex concepts such as multi-tasking, PIDs, etc.? With our IQ team this past season I taught them the concept of PID. We spent 2 whole months on what they are, learning about self driving cars, bang-bang control, white boarding what is proportional, integral, derivative, putting those onto a cartesian plane so they could really understand things. All before even getting into pseudo code. By the time they understood PIDs, it took them about a couple of hours to write the code.

I do like the suggestions that technik3k mentioned. Maybe we should have a progress chart with examples of what an idea team/organization should be (student lead).

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In regards to the green/yellow/red, I propose a different approach that links this to other aspects of VEX. Use the descriptors that are used in the Judges Rubrics - Expert, Proficient and Emerging to describing coaching behaviors and practices. The underlying assumption would be that coaching practices and behavior are expected to improve with experience, just like students are.

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Don’t know if this is already a thing, but if it is I haven’t found it, would anyone be interested in helping me put together a google document for vex newbies? It would have a single page sorted into a bunch of different subjects that would have a link to a google slides about that subject that would contain advice and links to videos and resources already existent on that subject
EDIT: Perhaps I should start a new thread on this

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https://www.vexwiki.org/start
A lot of past efforts that have come and gone. VEX had a wiki, but that was taken offline. VEXwiki.org has been around for a while, just needs traction. BNS had a site, but it went away. The hard part is sustaining an effort like this. A good idea, but requires a lot of work.

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ManiacMechanic had the greatest guides for both roboteers and mentors. Reach out to her and use that as a start

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