Students First
Ideas for Change

Ideas for Change

Here are just some of the ideas that StudentsFIRST is exploring. We want to know what you think!

January Survey

Here are the final results from our January survey. We had 125 responses that were:

50% – students
43% – mentors

The other 7% were volunteers, coaches, parents, and alumni.
Our next question was whether respondents think FIRST needs a Code of Conduct for adults. 72.2% of respondents either Agreed or Strongly Agreed.

Next question: To address the problem of some teams getting more mentor support than others, I think we should:

41.7% – Limit adult involvement on the teams by saying adults can only build up to 50% of the robot
34.2% – Limit adult involvement on all teams by saying adults can’t touch the keyboard or the robot
33.3% – Create an adults FRC league for enthusiastic adults can go compete against each other

Note that on this question, respondents were allowed to select more than one answer.
What do you think of these survey results? Leave a comment.

February Survey

Thank you to everyone who participated in the January survey and who shared their thoughts with emails and comments on our website. We heard you all loud and clear!

One common theme that emerged was the idea that students deserve to have agency in how their team is run. If mentors and coaches are building the robot, is that because the students want or need them to? Or because the adults have hijacked the team? It comes down to a question of student agency.

We’re also considering hosting an off-season FRC invitational. Would your team participate?
We also have a question about funding. If adults do most of the work on a team, is that what taxpayer dollars are for? When sponsors fund FIRST, do they know that on some teams there are adults taking over the design and build of the robot?

Also, it’s build season! Who is building your bot? Share your thoughts in our February survey!

Leagues

One option that has been proposed is having 2 FRC Leagues.

The “A” League would include students and adults, with a cap on adult involvement of some kind. When students graduate they would have the option to fill out a survey for FIRST to report the amount of mentor involvement on the team. If mentor involvement exceeds the cap according to student reports, adults would need to move to the “B” League that is for adults.

The “B” League would be for adults and would not require any student involvement, although “B” League teams could choose to have students on them if they wanted to.
This potential solution addresses the problems of adult over-involvement and students not learning. It allows enthusiastic adults an outlet to continue to build robots and be a part of the FIRST community. Also, this option could increase FIRST’s revenue. If FIRST is looking to grow the program, inviting adults to participate in a fair way is a great way to do it!

With a cap on mentor involvement for the “A” Team, you would have competitions that are more fair.

The Leagues solution also addresses the issue of misuse of funds. Some school districts pour $100,000 or more a year into robotics teams that primarily benefit adults. I’m sure the taxpayers would disagree with that use of funding. Adult-led programs also misuse funds from sponsors, since again the funds are supporting adult activities rather than students. And, it is unfair that adult-focused robotics teams are sucking resources away from other school programs that are actually run by and benefit students.

Cap on Adult Involvement

Another idea is to put a cap on mentor involvement. Of course, this would be difficult if not impossible to police. FIRST could say mentors can only build 50% of the robot, or FIRST could say only student hands can touch the robot or the keyboard. On one team, a coach will disappear with the robot for a couple of days and bring it back mostly completed. The work isn’t even happening on school grounds. With other teams, adults never touch their robot or the keyboard. Learning-focused teams teach the kids how to do things or how to look it up and find the answers, building problem solving skills and self sufficiency.

Code of Conduct for Adults

While most teams have books of guidelines for students, mentors and coaches often are not given parameters for their involvement or behavior. One way to communicate expectations to adults would be for FIRST, or for individual teams, to create a Code of Conduct for Adults.

Here’s a DRAFT code of conduct that you are welcome to use as a starting point for your team.

Code of Conduct for Coaches and Mentors on a FIRST Robotics Team

Mentors and coaches play a crucial role in leading and guiding students on a FIRST robotics team. To ensure a positive and respectful learning environment, mentors and coaches should adhere to the following code of conduct:

  1. Prioritize Student Learning: Coaches and mentors shall prioritize the students’ learning experience in all aspects of the FIRST Robotics program, ensuring that they are actively engaged and encouraged to take an active role in the design, construction, and problem-solving processes.
  2. Encourage Open Communication: Adults should not use their inherent power to silence students’ concerns about adults. Create an environment where students feel comfortable expressing their ideas, concerns, and questions. Mentors and coaches should listen, actively work to resolve students’ concerns, and provide constructive feedback.
  3. Respect Personal Boundaries: Respect the physical, emotional, and mental boundaries of every student. Do not engage in any form of abusive, insulting or belittling behavior, harassment, or discrimination. Allow students to take time off for physical injuries and mental health issues without punishment or other retaliation.
  4. Manage Conflicts Effectively: If conflicts arise among students, mentors, or coaches, address them promptly and fairly. Encourage peaceful resolutions and model effective conflict resolution strategies.
  5. Facilitate Skill Development: Coaches and mentors should facilitate the development of technical and problem-solving skills among the students, empowering them to take ownership of their learning and growth. They should guide, teach, and mentor, rather than engage in student tasks or take over the design/building process.
  6. Collaborative Decision Making: Coaches and mentors shall foster an environment of open communication and collaborative decision making. Students should be encouraged to express their ideas and opinions, and their contributions should be valued, acknowledged, and seriously considered during any decision-making process.
  7. Encourage Active Participation: Coaches and mentors should actively involve students in all aspects of the robot design, construction, programming, and strategy. It is crucial to provide opportunities for the students to apply their knowledge and skills independently, with guidance and support when necessary. Encourage participation and ensure that every student feels valued and heard.
  8. Lead by Example: Coaches and mentors shall demonstrate positive attitudes, ethical behavior, and professionalism. Team members should look up to them as role models, observing how they interact, communicate, and problem-solve. Coaches and mentors must emphasize integrity, respect, and cooperation in all team activities.
  9. Provide Learning Opportunities: Coaches and mentors should provide learning opportunities, such as workshops, tutorials, and presentations, to enhance students’ skills. These opportunities should focus on enabling students to take on more responsibilities as the season progresses. Offer guidance and resources to help students develop their technical and non-technical skills. Provide opportunities for growth and encourage self-improvement.
  10. Empower Team Leadership: Coaches and mentors should empower students to take on leadership roles within the team, allowing them to make decisions, delegate tasks, and provide guidance to their peers. This promotes team building skills, boosts self-confidence, and ensures a student-led environment.
  11. Disperse Responsibilities and Opportunities: In order to provide the most access to leadership opportunities, each student should only have one leadership or key position on the team at a time. When multiple leadership positions are held by one student, it may be easier for the adults but it deprives other students of learning opportunities. Likewise, adults should not train only one student for a task and then overwork them. Adults should train many students and allow them to share the learning and the workload.
  12. Regularly Assess Student Progress: Coaches and mentors should regularly assess the progress of each student, ensuring they are challenged appropriately and encouraged to reach their full potential. Individual feedback, evaluation, and recognition of accomplishments are key elements in their growth and development.
  13. Regularly Assess Coach and Mentor Involvement: Students should regularly assess the coaches, mentors and robotics program as a whole to ensure the program is focused on student education and that coaches and mentors are fulfilling their responsibilities on the team.
  14. Show Kindness and Respect: Mentors and coaches are expected to demonstrate kindness, respect, and professionalism toward students. Mentors and coaches should show some degree of deference to the students because this is a student-led team, so students and their ideas should be respected. Mentors and coaches should exemplify the behavior they expect from students. Students should be treated with dignity and respect. Adults should create space for student voice and agency.
  15. Maintain Professional Boundaries: Coaches and mentors must maintain appropriate professional boundaries with students, ensuring a safe and respectful learning environment. They should avoid favoritism, inappropriate personal relationships, and any behavior that may compromise the well-being and trust of the team members.

Every mentor and coach should review, understand, and agree to abide by this code of conduct. It is essential to create an atmosphere of kindness, respect, and learning where students can thrive and develop into their full potential.

This code of conduct is recommended on this day, ________________________. Students should review mentor and coach progress in one year, on _________________________. If students determine that adequate progress has not been made after one year, the Principal should institute an adult ombudsman to facilitate the resolution of student concerns.

FIRST Student Involvement Ombudsman

Here at StudentsFIRST we are also discussing the possibility of a StudentsFIRST Student Involvement Ombudsman. This is an adult or group of adults that students can go to for help if students’ concerns about adults are being silenced on the team.

While the YPP is great, adults stealing students’ agency is not really a safety issue.

In a decision by FIRST regarding a complaint of coaches and mentors sidelining students for their own benefit, FIRST categorized the complaint as being about “policing mentor involvement” rather than acknowledging that students were being silenced and sidelined on their own team.

Are you interested in serving as an Ombudsman to help students on teams where their voice is stifled? Please email us: Contact@StudentsFIRST.tech.

Students’ Voice in Mentor Involvement and Goals

Some teams will slide into a symbiotic student-mentor relationship with no conflict or angst. Rather than just hope that you have one of those teams, we recommend that each team has a meeting at the start of the season where students can freely discuss their hopes and expectations for their involvement with the team. Students should be able to say how much they want the mentors to do versus how much they want the mentors to teach. Students should also have a say in:

How many mentors are on the team? It is possible to have too many mentors.
Do mentors need to meet any requirements for knowledge about robotics or for teaching skills?

If mentors overreach over the course of the season, how can they be reigned in?
Do mentors make all the decisions about leadership and drive team positions on the team, or are some students involved in making those decisions as well?

Be cautious of adults steering the team’s goal setting by asking students to choose a goal for the year among several preset options. For example, if adults ask you if you want to win worlds, be in the top 10 at worlds, or make it to regionals, none of those options prioritize student learning or experience. Later the adults may defend their overreach by saying, “Well, you said your priority is winning!”

Ensuring Student Agency

While there are critics of various potential solutions – and a small minority claim there is no problem at all – I think we can all agree that students deserve to have some agency about their experience on a robotics team. Students should be allowed to vote on how much they do versus how much adults do. Students should be allowed to choose how many mentors are on the team, which mentors are on the team, and what is the criteria for determining if a mentor should return year after year.

To that end, we think it may be a good idea to draft a Student Agency Contract that covers these key decisions that students should be a part of. 

What do you think?

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