I don't understand how I could've not participated enough. The trainer told us what to do and I did it. I didn't ask as many questions as the other person being trained because I had familiarity with the system, so maybe this gave the impression I wasn't participating.
It's not so much about what you know or don't know but how you articulate that. It's hard to say what they disliked about it but it could be that you didn't do it right and the trainer simply did not tell you because you didn't ask any questions so he/she figured you were not interested in doing the activity.
Point is in the future when people bring up material that you already know, perhaps state that. For example, you're very familiar with Widget X and the trainer brings it up. You say, "Ahhh, the Widget X, yes I read about that. It has feature X, Y, and Z and it lets you do A, B and C." And the trainer may say, "That's very good, but did you know that it has a M, N, O, P and S features and let you do Y?" And you can say, "Oh no, I didn't know that. That's very interesting." Trainer would mark you down as very good as oppose to the trainer simply saying, "Hey here's widget X" and you sit there saying nothing. The trainer would think maybe he knows about it, let me test him and give you a test and see you missed something small but significant. He doesn't bring it up with you and simply tells his manager that you just sat there saying nothing and got it wrong.
Your thinking should be, "Why did the manager asked me to do this?" And with that followed up with, "I know this... but do they know that I know this? Did I tell them what I know about this? And do I have any real questions?" That other person with you might have known more than you do, but just asking questions and so fort to demonstrate that they do know it. Just remember, often times, especially in the software world, a lot of people understand very high level stuff and can explain it very well. But you ask a fundamental question, something that shows you really do understand it at the basic level, and they fail.
Out of the 4 months I worked there I was late twice by ~5 minutes. Which I didn't think was that bad.
That's significant. Being late, even for a small amount of time is significant. The fact that you thought it was okay might have shown a bad attitude that they didn't want around their offices. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean you should too.
As I'll continue to say here they're not going to stop you and explain with every single incident. Best way is to bring it up and it will probably have a significant impact on their perception of the problem. Saying something as simple as, "Boss, sorry I'm late, I ran into traffic." And the boss might just say "don't worry about it" or they might stop you and say, "Hey, we don't come late in this office. You see everyone else is already here? You better not be late next time." And you'll know that they don't like being late and you should come in earlier. Even more so, maybe you take the bus and tell the boss about it and he/she might be forgiving with you being late from time to time knowing the bus schedule is not iron proof.
Breaks are scheduled. I set my watch to a timer. This makes no sense I was taking too long of a break but no one told me but they did document it.
They're not going to tell you every single problem they come across with you. Being on probation is just that... you're free/flexible but at the same time someone is watching you. They're not going to chime in and try to fix every behavior unless you ask about it.
Again, you might say, "Boss, I'm going on lunch but I may be 10 minutes late because I need to do X." Boss might ask if you can do it later or he/she might be okay with it. At the very least you told your boss.
This doesn't even make sense to me.
At the end of the day they may just be too serious for what they are trying to get out of people. Could be that they are a problem or it could be that they had legitimate reasons in letting you go.
Just remember though, a workplace is not going to stop and babysit you at every possible incident that they don't like. Being on probation means you're under more scrutiny than normal and it could be, in most cases, them seeing if you fit in with the workplace both as a worker and if you fit in to their culture.
While you can't anticipate every single thing they would dislike, I think being late or coming back late from lunch are major items to discuss. You are old enough to know that being late might not work and they might not be forgiving especially if you're late multiple times and don't say anything.
And yes, participating in questions/demonstration times are important. Don't sit there, even if you know the material. This isn't like school where you raise your hands or they hold your hands through it. They're going to ask you, tell you, and you don't have to know everything but if you're just asking some questions or demonstrating you do know it, then they might think better of you even if you're wrong.
I find the assistant manager easier to understand at times, and I'm thinking of calling him to ask if he can elaborate. Is this a good idea?
I would just take it up as a learning experience. Try to really think about what happened and apply it in the future.
I think the notice from your boss is sufficient enough to work on. Time is important in the workplace. Participation is a requirement in a team effort, even if you know the material. Don't sit there, communicate, and just apply common sense if you think someone should know something, tell them.
I also want to stress that probation does not mean they "fix" you. It's not like a day care where they stop at every tiny thing and tell you it's wrong. No, they're going to watch you and see how you behave. That exercise with the other new person was a very critical event where they just wanted to see how well you do things. They're going to watch you come in, how you behave, etc, etc. You're under a microscope and communication is very much a key thing.
Outside of working at a blue collar type job, I would think the boss would rarely stop and tell you every tiny thing. They're just going to see you do something, and act accordingly unless you're able to explain. If you're in the office and the boss brings it up before you do, then you're too late. At a blue collar job, I would very much hope that they step in frequently if you're doing something wrong because most of those jobs might require the use of dangerous machines.