Pick, Pack, Punt: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
On November 19, Pick Pack Punt (PPP), an internal competition organized by Team Berkelium, became a reality. After a long period of design and experimentation, small teams finally had the opportunity to test their robots on the actual course. With some last minute refining, teams had the chance to collaborate in person and see months of hard work come to fruition. Although PPP gave newer students experience with the basics of robotics, looking back, we would make some adjustments to the structure of the competition. If you’re looking to host a competition of your own, here are our mistakes, and here’s how you can learn from them:
- Organization – We cannot stress the importance of organization enough. Hosting a competition with limited resources and experience requires weeks of planning, and isn’t something you can forgo. Decide on the venue and structure as far in advance as possible — there’s sure to be unanticipated setbacks along the way, so leave yourself more then enough time to address them. One of the most important things we learned from our experience with PPP is that test-runs are essential. The day of the PPP competition was the first time students had access to the course, and it took a while for students to adjust to the change in venue.
- Motivation – It’s a pandemic, and students are already under a lot of pressure — whether it be academic or social. Make sure that you set a timeline for students to follow. This will help discourage students from procrastinating – which is a totally natural response to COVID-19 – and set achievable goals that can increase motivation. Additionally, check in with students about progress. One of the biggest challenges with PPP was the lack of accountability for students. It was easy to fall behind and completely give up on the project, so take steps to ensure that doesn’t happen for you.
- Support for New Students – The goal of PPP was to engage newer members of the team with FRC style competition, and to provide students with a hands-on opportunity to work with robots. While our plans worked perfectly in theory, the pandemic made it much harder to support newer students. Newer students are going to feel overwhelmed without slow and simple introductory lessons, so make sure that you simplify everything as much as possible. Provide instructions for the base, and give students the opportunity to get creative at later phases. Offer videos and share resources for beginners.
Overall, PPP really allowed us to adapt as a team, and we believe that if we begin our next adventure with all of these lessons in mind, we can use our past experiences to grow. It’s a pandemic, of course everything won’t go perfectly. It’s not about getting it right the first time, or even the second. It’s about learning from past challenges and growing as a team.
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