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Question about how much help in terms of ideas can coaches/mentors give the team?

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  • Question about how much help in terms of ideas can coaches/mentors give the team?

    Given there are so many videos outlining solutions and there are full kits to address different challenges, how far can mentors and coaches go to give ideas or guide the team to optimal solutions? We have been letting the team run with their ideas, but sometimes the mentors and coaches want to get them thinking about things they have not considered yet. Can we introduce these for the kids to consider, or just try to guide them to get there themselves?

  • #2
    I would think it depends on how “accomplished” the team is. But if you are a mentor I. The true sense of the word you will introduce concepts and fill in some holes. Ideally, mostly using questions. But some of us are not as good as others.


    • #3
      The rule of thumb I use is are the students more or less independent if I help in this way? So for example: teaching them how to troubleshoot makes them more independent. Telling them what the problem is makes them more dependent.

      I use Dean Kamen's quote all the time when getting new mentors on board - Paraphrased - "If we wanted to build the best robots, we wouldn't use students. Our goal is to build students and we use the robot to do that."


      • #4
        It is really a delicate balance, debated for decades here and on Chief Delphi. My answers are shaped by the fact that I am in Michigan, so FTC is only in the 6-8th grades and am dealing with 11-14 year olds - kids that can't even legally get a legal Fusion 360 license... Our big program goals - introduce robotic concepts, increase self-confidence and esteem through learning new skills, and inspire each other because Robots are for everyone. We do quite a bit of mentor planning on the last item to insure everyone has a job to do and that everyone has a chance to learn in the very tight 8-12 week timeframe. Also because bringing a non-functional or barely functioning bot to competition is not a great way to learn or feel good.

        This year, we actually did a lot of mentor planning and guiding in order to have a more student designed bot. Because we have 15! kids on each of our three teams, we had to be more organized to give everyone a chance to contribute. As mentors, we decided that we would component-ize all the functions of the bot so each sub-team could prototype, experiment and build each subassembly. The mentors do have to lead to make sure all components fit and deliver what they committed to - yet the kids feel like they have done more this year - used sensors and switches - successfully than in the past.

        So here is my rule of thumbs:
        1. Is it safe?
        2. Will it derail the schedule? Someday I will tell you about last year's last minute disasters with tank treads and chassis rebuilds.
        3. Is there a reasonable solution not on the table? Is it because the kids just don't know the solution exists or is possible/acceptable?
        4. Is this a skunkworks project? (Are students working on something that is a hail mary or alternative to what the group decided?)
        5. What impact will this make NOT stepping in? Will it be a cautionary tale told for seasons to come?
        6. Is it helping the kids with a difficult concept or is it purely a competitive advantage?
        Some examples:
        Oh noes! A 3D printed part (spacers for wheels) opening for the axel is too small. Kids immediately wanted to alter the CAD and reprint. This 2) puts us behind schedule and 3) there is an easy fix (drill out the part). Mentor refocuses the discussion and shows students how to use a power drill safely. Win!

        We struggle with auton programming because none of our age group has encountered trigonometry or even much algebra at this point. We (mentors) have written helper functions to assist with the encoder math and using distance/IMU sensors. Our kids *could* brute force/trial and error into a solution, but there is a reason trig exists. However, path finding algorithms are _not_ on the plate because all that does is give a competitive advantage without much learning taking place.


        • #5
          Finding the right balance how how much to give is an ongoing search and there is no perfect answer.

          I think the approach where the coach gives almost no help is misguided. There is no other sport where the coach doesn't guide the participants towards a better solution. I've seen people argue that a coach should give no advice but yet will bring in professional engineers to do a design review and they of course freely give advice, make recommendations of better solutions, etc. That approach does not make sense to me.

          Being too hands off means that students will be using trial and error rather than sound engineering techniques. That is how they become frustrated with lack of success and leave. All engineering is built upon lessons learned by generations of engineers before us. As a coach & mentor I should help students understand at least some of this body of knowledge,

          Now - robotics is different from other sports too. The coach should not be doing the work for the participants, but throwing out ideas, or giving advice is definitely useful. And by useful I mean helps the students learn and be proud of what they accomplish. i.e. inspiring people in science & technology. (hmmm - that sounds familiar :-) )

          Now the flip side of this is a mentor who builds the robot or even designs it all is also doing a disservice to the team. If the students don't do the work then they know that it isn't really their robot and any pride in their accomplishments is stunted because of that.