Frequently Asked Questions

If you are interested in joining the team, go to the 'Steps for joining the robotics team' page and follow the instructions.  Because of growing interest in being part of the team, membership is limited to current MVHS students.

Robotics is much more like a sports team or an activity like Marching Band than a typical school club. As such, it requires a commitment to showing up in order to have a successful experience on the team. Students who make the commitment learn skills that will help them in college and beyond. However, since it is not a class, students need self motivation to attend and get the most out of the experience. 

The robotics team works best for those who show up often, engage, and ask questions. Those that occasionally show up have a hard time engaging and may feel like the time they do spend with the team is not well spent. There is usually more mentor support for students who are committed to learning and showing up. Being on the team works even better for those that spend lots of time on robotics outside of the meeting times. 

  • While there is no minimum time commitment to be on the team, we have found that members need to show up for at least two meetings a week during the build season that starts in January - about ten hours a week - to get the most out of the program. We have found that students who don’t make this level of commitment often drop out because they do not feel integrated into the team. The really committed members on the team probably spend 2-3 times that many hours.  It is also important to note that only students who are active members attending at least two meetings a week will be excused from school to attend competitions, particularly the Championship in Houston. 
  • The season has a very tight timeline so for new students to have the best experience possible, it is important to take advantage of training and involvement before the season starts. During the season, students will work on tasks with strict deadlines alongside mentors and other students. Again, If they can’t meet the deadline, someone else will likely finish the task. 
  • Wednesday evenings all year. 7:15-9:15 
  • During the off season we also schedule additional meetings on weekends as needed. 
  • During the season from January to April, we also meet on 
    • Fridays from after school to 9 or 10pm
    • Saturdays from noon to 9 or 10pm
    • Sundays from noon to 6pm
  • We also meet on any school holidays during the season including the 3 days over Martin Luther King weekend. As we get closer to the deadlines, students often stay much later on Friday and Saturday nights. However, hopefully the more people who commit to helping as much as possible, the less often we have to stay late. 
  • Leadership meetings are every other Thursday evening from 7:30 to 9pm during the off season and every Thursday during the season. All members are welcome to attend. 

The meeting times and locations are available at the "Calendar" link at the top of this page. When there is a lot to do, we call extra meetings. Meeting times are also sent out on the team elist. If you are interested in the team and maybe checking out a meeting, you can join the team elist. It is a list that is managed by MVHS.

Other than when the team attends competitions, the team occaisionally goes to NASA or Bellarmine College Prep to practice running the robot.  Our team does not have a full playing field at MVHS but are fortunate to be able to have access to practice fields in the area.

NASA drive practices 

  • There has been some confusion about the NASA drive practices. Unless there are drive team tryouts or general team drive days, these practices are for the drive team and students who help with programming and/or maintaining the robot. If you are interested in going to help and/or see what it is like, watch for sign up emails. There are often jobs that new students can help with and it can be fun to go to practices. Helping to keep the robots running is good practice for those who are interested in helping in the pit during competitions.n  Parents are welcome to go and help or watch. Only adults who are US Citizens or Green Card holders can go to NASA due to NASA security rules. There are no restrictions on students who are younger than 18. Watch for emails about NASA practices and adults who want to get a pass, submit pass requests before the deadline on Thursdays. 

Bellarmine drive practices 

  • As with the NASA drive practices, unless there are drive team tryouts or general team drive days, these practices are for the drive team and students who help with programming and/or maintaining the robot. As with NASA practices, if you are interested in going to help and/or see what it is like, watch for sign up emails. Unlike NASA practices it is not necessary to obtain a pass to attend. 

As a new member, it can be hard to figure out something to do. Because new members don't have any training it can seem hard to participate. But, if you do your best to attend the weekly meetings and are constantly asking for something to do (if you sit there waiting for something to do, you may or may not get to do anything; if you proactively ask around, then you will certainly be able to find things to do) and attending any training meetings which are organized, you will be able to find things to do and have a great time on the team. Every year we have new members go from knowing nothing to being key contributors by the end of the season. All of them are persistent and show up to most of the meetings.

Yes, we build a robot, but there is so much more to having a successful robotics team. We want everyone to learn and work on things that they are interested in and enjoy. There are other things that need to be done too so think about other talents and interests that you have that can help the team. Some other areas with opportunities to contribute are: 

  • Writing and communication - We need to submit reports for awards as well as sponsorship applications. We also need students who are interested in working on website content, facebook, and twitter updates 
  • Graphic design - We make t-shirts, fliers, website articles, report layouts, and poster boards. 
  • Photography - We can use help documenting events. 
  • Videography - We try to release a video of our robot before our first competition each year. This is to show off our robot to the robotics community. We also take match videos so that the drive team can review them after each match and learn from what happened. This also helps with debugging the robot when it misbehaves during a match. 
  • Scouting and game strategy - This is an important part of what we do as a team. The scouting team gathers data at competitions to help play the game and also determine who we want as our alliance partners in the elimination matches. 

Here is a summary of important dates for new members to know about up front.  The year is divided into two parts: the season and the off-season.  The season runs from January to the middle of April.  The off-season is the rest of the year.

The season

  • Kickoff - The first Saturday in January - This is when the team gets the new challenge for the season.  Sometimes it is the Saturday before school starts.  If you haven't already planned a trip for that time, please consider being back in town on that date.  Many design decisions and much work is done that weekend and members who miss it will have a lot of catching up to do.
  • Stop Build Day - On the Tuesday that is six weeks and 3 days from kickoff - This is usually during winter break. A lot of important work is done in the days before we put the competition robot in a bag.  If you are planning a vacation during that winter break, please consider leaving after Tuesday.
  • Regional Competitions - During March and early April - The team attends two regional competitions where we compete to earn a slot at the championship event in Houston.
  • Championship event in Houston  - This is usually during the third week of April.  While it is not guaranteed that we will attend, there is a good chance we will qualify.  All active members are eligible to attend.

The off-season

  • During the summer, the team meets less frequently.  Besides working with new students who can begin attending as soon as school is out, the team works on building the "Third Robot".  The team builds two robots during the season and then another robot during the summer and fall.  The purpose of this project is to build a simpler robot with more time for students to learn and build skills that is available during the 6 week build season.  The team then competes with this robot in an off-season competition in the fall.
  • September - Chezy Champs at Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose (off season competition). Off season events are fun because we compete with the previous season’s robot. It is a great way for new members and their parents to get a taste of a competition. Chezy Champs is particularly fun because many of the best teams on the west coast attend.   
  • November - Madtown Throwdown in Madera (off season competition near Fresno). We will be taking three robots and will need lots of help at the competition. We will drive to Madera on Friday after school and come home on Sunday. Monday is a school holiday. This is a great time for members to get to know each other better. Family members are welcome to come too. This is where we debut our “third robot” that the team is currently working on. Many new members have been involved in designing the robot and will help make parts and assemble the robot. 
  • August through Dec - training and preparation for the season. Taking advantage of training during this period will make the season more fun. 

 

Actual current season dates (as they become known) can be found here.

Dr. Woodie Flowers, FIRST National Advisor and Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, coined the term “Gracious Professionalism®”.  Gracious Professionalism is part of the ethos of FIRST. It's a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either.  Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended. In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.

Gracious Professionalism is an important concept in FIRST. This means we help other teams before and at competitions and then during the competition, compete like crazy. As an individual, you should always act with integrity at all time. When you are wearing a team t-shirt or otherwise representing the Spartan Robotics team you should always be helpful, gracious, and never speak ill of another team.

There are no entry fees to be on the team. 971 has generous sponsors who help fund the team. However, we do ask members to pay for their own travel to competitions. Students share rooms to keep costs low and the competitions in California tend to cost around $120 with food. When the team travels to the Championship, costs are higher and can be from $700 to $900 depending on airfare. Traveling to team events is a great experience and really helps the team get to know each other better. Students do need to miss school for some of the competitions and active members will be excused from class. We offer scholarships to help with travel for students who cannot attend otherwise. 

For traveling to the Championship in Houston, Texas, parents can try to use frequent flier miles but students have to be going on a flight with an approved supervisor or their parents - no exceptions. We only go to the Championship if we qualify at a regional so if we qualify, we will start purchasing tickets as soon as possible. Please start thinking about whether you would likely go before the regional competitions. 

T-shirts and other swag - Every active member and mentor receives a free t-shirt every year from the team. This includes new members in the fall. Wyn Schuh hands out these t-shirts and you need to have completed the requirements and she needs to know who you are and that you are showing up. Feel free to introduce yourself. 

  • After Wyn gives t-shirts out to new members, there may be some extras for family members. There will also be an opportunity to order extras when we make them for the next season. They are $10 per shirt. 
  • We also may have hats and sweatshirts if members are interested. During the season, we take orders for extra shirt. Many students get extra shirts so that they can trade them for other teams’ shirts. We also have team hats, polo shirts, sweatshirts, and fleece jackets available. There are some in stock in the lab so ask Wyn Schuh if you are intestered in checking them out. 

We encourage all students and families to attend the competitions. There is always a lot to do and see at them. The competitions are great opportunities to learn a lot about robotics quickly. I highly encourage all new members to attend at least some of the Chezy Champs off season competition later this month. It will help you understand what we are working toward in a season. We will be traveling to Madera over the Veterans’ Day weekend and that is a lot of fun too. 

  • At competitions new members can 
    • Help with scouting - this is a vital part of the competition. The team needs data on every robot at the competition and the more people who can help with this the better. There is a lot of strategy involved with the game and this data is important. The more people who help with scouting the better because then people get breaks. There will a meeting the Wednesday before Chezy Champs that will talk about what to expect at the competition and also how to scout at the competition. 
    • Look at other teams and robots - at Chezy Champs there will be some of the best robots on the west coast. Go and ask questions. 
    • See what we do in our pit - a limited number of people can actually be in the pit working on the robot because of the small size but you can observe and see what goes on. In Madera in Nov, we will have three robots and a bigger pit area so there will be more opportunities to work on the robots. 
    • Watch matches. See how the competition works and how the robots work. 
    • Cheer the team on and show team spirit.
    • Parents are encouraged to attend the competitions - even the away events. We book blocks of rooms for students and families. 
  • More experienced members 
    • Help lead scouting 
    • Take care of batteries for matches 
    • Take match videos 
    • Analyze match data 
    • Make robot repairs and modifications in the pit 
    • Prepare for matches 
  • Bring food - dinners and snacks
  • Become an approved driver
  • Making playing field pieces 
  • Become a fingerprinted volunteer 
  • Become a mentor 

For more information on how to help, you can go to our page on Volunteering to Help.

There are many opportunities for new students to learn and get involved on the team.

  • Training opportunities will be made available and students will need to take advantage of them. 
  • Tool training - everyone should do at least the basic tool training. There will also be more advanced tool training if interested. Talk to Archer, Bahar, or Mira for more information. The team website has a section on tool training. Use it as a guide. 
  • Programming - talk to mentors if interested. Programming is an area where we are growing but is also an area that requires students to put in substantial amount of time outside of meetings to be successful. If you are given a task and finish it promptly, you will probably be given a more challenging task. That is how you grow. There are many opportunities for programming besides just programming the robot such as scouting, data visualization, and vision to name a few.  Because we are not a class, learning basic programming is a responsibility of the individual students.
  • Workshops - Look for workshops on CAD, Electrical, Pneumatics, Design and other things. 
  • Ask questions. With a big team, we will do everything we can to involve students but the students who ask questions and ask people when they are unsure of what to do will likely be the most involved. 
  • Be willing to try new things. You never know what you will enjoy and be good at. 
  • Beyond the basic training, for interested and committed students there will be training on the lathe and CNC Router. 

If you want to find out more information about past year's games and our robots, you can check out our past robot design page.

We started having team potlucks because we found that parents didn't really know what their students were doing on the robotics team. They also didn't have opportunities to meet other students and families associated with the team. Parents who meet other parents and see what the team does are more excited about the program and find that they can do lots of things to help out on the team.

We encourage all parents to join us and meet other parents and students on the team. Particularly important is the potluck that we have on Kickoff day in January.  Families can come and see the new game and also see some of the things that the team is working on.

The way we organize potlucks is to just bring whatever you want with enough to share. We have plates, cups and cutlery. It always seems to work out. If you don't have time to cook something, you can bring bread or drinks or dessert or something. We've never gone hungry.