All-In On VEXcode VR (for now…)

As we were looking around for best practice solutions to continue teaching Robotics in the virtual classroom, VEX announced its release of VEXcode VR. Besides being made free for public and educational use, the VEXcode VR platform was designed an equalizer, so that no matter what device you had access to, you could participate in online STEM learning.

This platform just ticked the box for all of the requirements that were suddenly coming fast and furious from schools, who wanted to resume enrichment programs through virtual classrooms:

  • Robotics Simulation
  • Block Programming + Python API
  • Simulated Sensors & Actuators
  • Algorithmic Challenges – not just hard-coding paths
  • Fun to play with!
  • Soft Hardware Requirements – Can be used on iPads or other Tablets
  • Enough depth for 1-2 months of lessons (wishful thinking)

There’s an Art Canvas for Turtle programming, a Maze for path creation and algorithmic way-finding, a Castle for a bumper/crasher game, an electromagnet-based game challenge for collecting game elements on the field. Grids that can be used to teach some abstract math concepts, like 2D coordinate systems. It’s quite robust, too!

Is it a perfect platform? No.

Some glaring issues:

  • No way to simulate line-following, one of the main use-cases of Robotics competitions in primary and secondary school level events.
  • No way for two robots to interact on a single game field concurrently
  • No way to design robots
  • No moving actuator (only an electromagnet)
  • A too-perfect simulation, physics engine-wise
  • Limited scope with no obvious pipeline of expansion

Still, we want to thank VEX and Innovation First for their generous and timely release.
If nothing else, it has piqued our interest again in creating our own Robotics Simulation toolkit (TBC).

Applied Learning Program – Online

So far 2020 has been a long parade of kicks in the butt! But, A Posteriori has always possessed a great sense of humor, and while we take the utmost precautions dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and strictly adhere to health regulations, we have also tried to keep up with programs and offerings for our students.

In April, we moved online to conduct part of our Applied Learning Program (ALP) in Electronics, Programming, Design Thinking on the theme of Active Living. We managed to get the students to take physical kits home, and setup virtual classrooms of Discord mainly. Discord, which is free, has a natural “room” or “team” setup, so we could work with multiple design groups separately and almost concurrently – similar to walking around the classroom from desk to desk. Except it wasn’t, and only a half or so of the secondary school students managed to participate actively for the online duration of the program.

I learned to respond to the name Cher.

Some of the results were really great:

Dance Dance Revolution console for disabled people – large 4-button distributed keyboard that can be used by any combination of whole or damaged limbs. The project used Makey Makey to receive game control input, and an Arduino with PulseSensor to monitor heart-rate.

Several jumping, push-up, or hand exercise virtual games with playful characters responding in real-time. Mostly utilizing ultrasonic and PIR sensors.

Game Design Sample

A Cyclotron using simple IR reflective sensor with Arduino.

Several lock boxes – for your smartphone – that unlock after some heartrate has been achieved for a specified duration.

We really had fun supporting this cohort of Sec-2 students.

BTW – not this one:
“cher” as in short for teacher:

Those who can both do and teach…

When we founded A Posteriori, we wanted to make sure we didn’t lose focus of our previous careers as engineers and software developers.  We wanted to stay relevant in both the Commercial industry as well as find a niche in Education.

Besides creating our new STEM education business, developing original curriculum, and teaching at MOE and International Schools, last year we also ground our teeth on a wall-climbing robot, which we exhibited at the Singapore Robotics Games event. We won a Unique Design award for our efforts.

Early draft

This year we developed and sold a custom-made product to the Ministry of Health’s National Medical Research Council (NMRC) to help with anonymized grant-proposal decision-making events.  The product, an Audience Response System (ARS), went live last month and I was extremely proud seeing it used last week. Our clients and their end-users had nothing but praises for our work, and a list of feature enhancements, of course. We look forward to working with the Ministry of Health and the NMRC on other projects in the future.

A Posteriori is not just about LEGOs and Drones.

We intend to continue to make real products, some just for fun or artistic value, and some for creating commercial or scientific value.

And we hope to take our students on some of our Making adventures in our new Mega MakerSpace & STEM Learning Center.

Our new Mega MakerSpace & STEM Learning Center

We opened the doors to our new MakerSpace designed for both kids and adults earlier this year.  It’s located at the MEGA building in Woodlands, Singapore.

Our first intake of students was brought to us by one of our partners, Yap Kwee Lin, who introduced us in the first place, and is an important part of the origin story of A Posteriori.

Photo Credit: Jack Yam

The kids took us on a Mission to the Moon, as part of their participation in this year’s FIRST LEGO League Jr event.

We enjoyed creating the unique curriculum blending Science (electrolysis of water, solar-powered electronics), Technology (3D printing, indoor planter), Engineering (WeDo Robotics), and Math (lunar orbit mechanics, and various other problems).  We even went on a field trip to observe the night sky at the Galaxy Community Center Observatory.

The kids and their families were super-keen, which made the experience really unique and gratifying.

And, of course, they took great pride in their work and won a trophy for their efforts!

Photo Credit: Jack Yam

We are hoping to expand our student class of 2019 during the June Holidays.

Robocup 2019 – Clinchers and JC Conundrum

Our students from Swiss Cottage, Pei Hwa Secondary, and Zhenghua Primary participated in various sub-leagues of the 9th Robocup Singapore Open & Competition this past weekend.

When we teach, there is always a lot of pressure to get the kids on a path to excel.  We are happy to help the kids reach their true potential, as long as they’re having fun.  The Robocup CoSpace Rescue challenge is built like a game, and so the platform lends itself to a fun-filled curriculum with a built-in drive to success (and win the game!).

The kids showed great aptitude in this league, as they clinched first, second, and sometimes even third places (not officially allowed by competition guidelines) in the various fixtures and age groups.  We are looking to establish a more formal partnership with the Robocup league organizers to provide our original curriculum, based on the CoSpace challenge, to more schools in Singapore.  And make the 10th Singapore Open a great success next year.

One pet peeve, our secondary school teams who joined the more competitive RCJ league faced major challenges from Junior Colleges, and so the Under 19 category is going to be quite impossible to surmount – and the coveted spot to represent Singapore internationally quite out of reach…

micro:bits for Good – element14 Education Giveaway

Kudos to element14 for their work on growing their community of makers and educators.  I happened on their Great micro:bit Education Giveaway publication while looking for out-of-stock micro:bits packages.  I had a compelling story about our work with at-risk youth at Boys’ Town and Muhammadiya Welfare Home, and now we have a bunch of micro:bits we can use to do more good!

We are contacting our non-profit partners to find a good home for the micro:bit Club pack, before the year-end holiday season.

Paying it forward pays back…

New Collaboration With Camp Asia

Earlier this year our friends at Tinkertanker contacted us with a sort of unsolicited welcome to the Tech Education marketplace.   We really appreciated that professional courtesy.  And we’ve been collaborating with them on several projects ever since, teaching Secondary level courses like Arduino and Python/Processing.

They also referred us to Camp Asia – a leading holiday camp and extracurricular activity provider run by Cognita, the owner of both Australian and Stamford American International Schools.  We built up our relationship with Camp Asia, and now we will be participating more closely with them on their Tech Savvy offerings as their so-called Head Coaches for Creative Coding and Electronic MakerSpace – original curricula curated especially for this collaboration.

Thank you Tinkertanker and Camp Asia for helping us grow and putting your trust in us!

Sustainability & :bit-novation @ Maha Bodhi School

Integrating a mess of controller, wires, sensor, servo and LEDs into a security system.

Throughout July and August we delivered our biggest educational program yet – a cohort of ~315 students for 10.5 hours of micro:bit-based, physical computing and making module following a sustainability and innovation contextual arc.

The kids got to explore all sorts of external electronic components, from simple LEDs to water pumps and servos, hygrometers and IR proximity sensors. It was a breadth-first bonanza, but the class sizes (1:40 ratio) and short session durations (1.5 hr) prevented us from really digging down, although at the end the kids were testing their own limits, which was great to see.

Water & Electronics – not the best mix… Still, this girl team of makers didn’t fry anything!

I think we could concentrate on something less open-ended and get better student participation rates, sacrificing our own interest and the rare oddballs who are best-suited for a more creative approach.

Kids’ final projects ranged from Bluetooth-powered messaging between multiple micro:bits, proximity-triggered security systems with buzzers and LEDs, and self-watering plants. The sustainability gambit colored all of the work and learning.

It was a labor of love, but boy was it labor. We sourced electrical components, packaged hundreds of kits, created a custom-tailored curriculum, and printed hundreds of personal worksheets & guides. This is about the largest I’d want to get for a while. Any bigger and I think we’d lose a sense of what we’re actually doing.

 

A Posteriori @ Technology Education and Agriculture Automation Conference in Sarawak, Malaysia

Earlier this month, we continued to deliver our STEAM in Singapore Schools series of talks during the launch of a new Drone Operators Course at the Sumiran Eco Camp outside Kuching, Sarawak on the Malaysian island of Borneo.  Our participation here is due to our informal partnership with a consortium of business and academic interests trying to help revolutionize Palm Oil farming utilizing automation and modern data analytics and agronomic technology.

As STEAM educators and engineers are our role in this venture is yet to be completely clarified, but with the launch of several Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) & Robotics Academies in Borneo and Kuala Lumpur, we may be getting closer to operational requirements for STEAM education and basic Drone flight and controller programming courses.

We look forward to working with Captain Sudhir and his team in the near future.