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Contracting out robot design for competitions?

So I recently had this email land in my mailbox and was quite disturbed.  Identifying details removed.

"I am a teacher of IT and preparing elementary students for participating in a national XXXXXX robotics competition. The truth is that I don't have so much time. I want to give to my students the happiness to make the Robot there and pass to the final of the competition.

I want to ask you if you can help me to build and program the Robot that can give the solution to the XXXXXX challenge. I can pay you of course for your work if you can help me."

I've heard rumours before of this happening and frankly I think it is just about impossible to stop a determined Teacher / Team mentor. 

This was my reply - 


I was disappointed to receive you email.  As you are no doubt aware, these kinds of competitions exist to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills amongst our students.  By providing them with a ready built solution deprives them of the opportunity to learn themselves through the valuable trail and error process.  Design skills, creative thinking and problem solving techniques are never learnt when someone else does all the work for you.
In addition, these competitions require that the students do the majority of the work, and so to have someone else design and build would go against the ethos of the competition as well as be blatant misrepresentation of the work that they have done.  
I deeply implore you not to go down this route and instead encourage the students to come up with and test their own solutions.  The ultimate aim of these such competitions and initiatives is not to win, and your students would achieve and learn considerably more with a robot that doe not make the finals (that they have built themselves) then they would from a robot that did make the finals (that they had nothing to do with).

Damien Kee


Given how highly regarded all these types of competitions are becoming.  Winning them does bring with it a lot of fantastic publicity as well as financial incentives.  I understand that having the competitive part of a challenge can be a very big drawcard and can often be a big factor in the success of such a program, but how do we combat the 'win at all costs' mentality? 

In RoboCupJunior Australia we are making a concerted effort to not only personally interview every team that comes in, and by initiatives such as rewarding teams that document and share their solutions regardless of how they perform on the day.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. 



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Reader Comments (5)

Fully agree your thoughts. I am a father of two kids in Hong Kong and visit your website sometime. I started to learn by myself and teach my first kid – 8 years old to learn EV3 robotics last year. I want to inspire him to love science, technology, engineering and math through this platform. Parents and teachers are the important role model for kid during their development stage. If the kids know their teachers are cheating, the kids should be very disappointed and heart broken.

I should believe that the primary student would like to play the competition by their own effort and enjoy the progress instead of running short cut . Anyway, I do support your thoughts. Cheer up!!

July 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMing

I also fully agree with you. You know its always the parents/mentors who want their team to win prizes , kids, they just want to have good time and learn. I started learning EV3 this year and taught my son and some of his freinds too. The joy, the pride which they have designing, building and programming their very own robot is so overwhelming. Frankly speaking they came up with even better robots themselves , then what i would have taught them from net. Even i learnt a thing or 2 from them. So let the kids build, let them learn , let them have fun.

July 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterROBOMOM85

Damian I couldn’t agree more with your concerns or disgust. I too once faced the challenge of mentoring a keen student without the back ground to do so. The time we spent together trying proved to be the best bonding experience between a father and son. To give an unearned victory to one is to rob from the genuine efforts of another and ill prepare the student for a life of engineering beyond the competition. John has told me that the best thing I ever said to him was to build his own robot. I purchased this generic kit which had a plug and play convenience about it and yet had a well prepared and detailed syllabus that let John teach himself. The company also had a forum that he joined up and asked who knows how many questions. The answers provided were from qualified engineers and therefore would be better than anything I could have given him. Once he got the swing of things there was no stopping him. I hope that the students are encouraged to take their first steps forward if not with the help of their teacher then with their parents Kind Regards Michael Board

July 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Board


I just came across this post and completely agree with you. As long as there is a competition, I'm seeing parents, coaches, and kids doing very unethical things in the name of obtaining trophies. We are facing teams that have engaged in sabotage, altering competitors programs, and, yes, using professional engineers to design and perform the tasks of programming and optimization. I'm not sure what the answer is. Perhaps we've gone to such a far extreme of competition that the goal is now the trophy and the title, and not the rewards obtained from the journey. I'd love to find a way to obtain the same level of interest from the kids that I coach if there wasn't a competition, a trophy, or an award.

I've been following many of your posts and comments on Facebook. I always admire they way you turn questions around to make it a learning experience. Thanks and keep it up!

December 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Brown

I agree as well. You cannot and should not build or have the robot built for them. Winning is always nice, but not really the point. My son, Justin was introduced to this program by Chris Rogers at Tufts and now consults with our computer club. Although he is more than willing to make suggestions and offer advice to our students, he has been adamant, and rightly so, that he will not do the work for them. Likewise, if he offers them a suggestion or creates a model/template that may solve their programming issue, if they don't follow up on it, we don't go any further. Something like the old "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink." If they don't learn to think and solve problems on their own, then they will have much bigger issues in life than simply winning a robotics competition.

At the last competition, our parents noted the stress level and intensity of some of the teams and commented on it to me. They were actually proud of our students, their level of commitment and display of enjoyment in what they were doing, even without winning the competition. Not sure of the origin of this quote, "it's not the destination, it's the journey that matters," but it seems to apply well here.

October 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChristine Chu

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