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.

A Posteriori @ SENS.Club’s Salon on Technology in Education and Vice Versa

Last night I provided a brief introduction of our company, our practices, and our mission to a professional, largely-French speaking crowd at a public forum on Technological Transformation in Education.  Tuyen Thanh, one of our trainers, was kind enough to hook me up with Maltem/SENS.Club for the gig.  While this crowd-schmoozing is not part of our normal shtick, it was nice to discuss the benefits of technology in the classroom, the disruptions caused by the democratization of knowledge, and some of the evils inherent in mobile devices and other dystopia-inspiring memes…

It was also an honor to sit on a panel with various professors from prestigious schools like SMU and ESSEC business school, as well as the current French Minister of Digital Transformation in France.

For a slideshow of my talk on Constructionism and A Posteriori brand of disruption in the TechEd marketplace, follow this link.

Zhenghua Primary Clinches 1st Place at Robocup

We are very proud of our students, especially when they beat all expectations and outperform against all odds.

When we won the contract to teach the Junior and Senior CCA Robotics Clubs at Zhenghua Primary, it seemed like a straight-forward LEGO Mindstorms contract.  However, we have found out that CCA’s are never just one thing… As long as we behave like teachers or mentors, and not product vendors, we will get to experience a host of exciting curve balls thrown at us, based on the demands and interests of the program managers and their students.  In this case, we were asked to provide Robocup CoSpace Rescue training after just 2 weeks operating a LEGO curriculum there, and fortunately we were ready for the ask.

Last weekend, the teacher-in-charge sent me a congratulatory notice about his club’s first place win at the national Robocup Junior event – one of the best achievements they ever had.

Pei Hwa Secondary – Teams working frantically to outdo each other in a CoSpace Rescue in-class challenge

RoboCup Singapore this year had a lot of technical issues,  leading to the competition being delayed a few weeks back unexpectedly, and taking place during a weekend after the schools normally stop the afternoon extracurricular clubs, so the kids can focus on their end-of-semester exams and projects.  Still, the Science Center Annex was packed on Friday afternoon, during the registration and practice session.  The atmosphere was charged and we met teachers and teams we work with from Zhenghua and Temasek Primary schools, and Pei Hwa and Swiss Cottage Secondary schools. We have been working with some of those kids on these teams over the past 3-4 months using various Robotics curricula, sometimes specifically training them towards the Robocup competition challenges – namely line-following techniques, C language, and event-based programming.

RoboCup Grand Prix & Rescue Line challenges require robust line-following capability: tricky maps that change from round to round.

I’ve enjoyed the competitive atmosphere of technology challenges, ever since my earliest days at Tufts University, working with my freshman-year roommate on our entry to the American Nuclear Society automation conference Robotics Challenge in Savannah, Georgia.  Two decades forward, I’m still enjoying it both vicariously through our client schools, as well as with our company’s ongoing efforts to operate as engineers and makers, not just educators.

Kudos to Singapore’s Education (MOE) and InfoComm (IMDA) ministries, and their various academia partners, for making an effort in this area – motivating and subsidizing a relatively wide array of events, challenges, and competitions to help all students reach their true potentials.

Latest Offering: Board Game Design + 3D Printing

Last weekend, Cort and I tested out our first IMDA-sponsored course, free and open to the public.  The theme was Board Game Design, and we used 3D design (utilizing the free and child-friendly TinkerCAD) and 3D printing to provide a technological edge to the otherwise traditional medium.  We held the 6-hour workshop over 2 days in the IMDA Pixel Lab MakerSpace at Tampines Regional Library.

We limit front-of-the-class instruction time, and try to spend the bulk of our lessons helping learners with specific problems. This encourages the broadest learning experience – lots of trial and error, creativity as no rigid script or prescription to follow, and dynamic, on-the-job learning. Just like the real world!

The workshop time was divided into three main parts:

  • Learning & playing table-top games, especially popular, cooperative board games like Forbidden Island and Castle Panic
  • Game Design Theory
  • 3D Design & 3D Printing (of anything, but cool replacement board game pieces for boring pawns from the above games was the unrealized holy grail…)
Kids playing cooperative board games together, with some guidance from myself and my daughter, who has become an adept player. Cooperative board games teach strategic thinking, collaboration, leadership skills, and creativity – but mostly, they’re a super-fun way for a family or group of friends to spend time engaged in an activity together, and not consumed with mobile devices…

We had a wide range of relatively young subscribers from 6-12 years old, so it was a bit of a challenge to keep a strict pace.  However, it was great watching the older kids bringing the younger ones along on their gaming sessions.  And the youngsters of the bunch were surprisingly adept at manipulating 3D objects in TinkerCAD.

Every student designed their own original creation. No script, no limits – only open-ended creativity allowed here…

Each child left the workshop with one original 3D design printed on the single 3D printer provided in this MakerSpace.  The lack of resources was a frustration for us and the students alike, so we’ve taken that to heart in our latest pitch to a primary school interested in this curriculum for its Infocomm & Media Club.  We hope to bring this original technology module to a wider audience around the island.

My 9-year-old daughter participated, and she came home full of ideas she wanted to test out on TinkerCAD – so, now I finally have an excuse to give my wife to buy that 3D printer we can’t fit anywhere…

LEGO + 3D Printing: An Evolution In Creativity

Our Chief Engineer, Cort, has been leading various LEGO Mindstorm-based CCA’s, teaching the basics of mechatronics with the constrained and limited world of EV3 kits.  Sure, the LEGO Education kits are a masterful creation and a gateway drug to all things STEM.  Don’t get us wrong – We love LEGO!

But, teaching a full STEM curriculum with JUST LEGO can be difficult for a creative engineer knowledgeable in a wide world of technology and fundamental science and math.  So, as one progresses from basic line-following, two-wheeled contraptions to original works of art and mechanical design it can get frustrating to look for a part that may or may not have been thought of a universal joint by LEGO designers, as incredibly awesome as they may be.

Enter LEGO Mindstorm Part Builder.

So, of course, Cort went forth and designed a simple tool for him to easily fabricate universal joints of his own and students’ liking.  The premise is that most of LEGO’s mechanical parts fit in a 3D grid of blocks with holes drilled in various dimensions, and parts that lock these bits into place with respect to one another.  Well, one sometimes just wants to take advantage of that world and enhance existing EV3 kits with non-existent parts that would enable them to put the LEGO pieces with respect to one another in ways cumbersome or impossible to do according to LEGO Mindstorm’s design, whether it was done on purpose or due to other limitations.  LEGO cannot sell every part of every type in unlimited quantities to every LEGO user, so we understand the conundrum.  However, we have found a solution!

We hope this is not trespassing on LEGO’s intellectual property rights.  If anything, we hope it enables LEGO designers to think creatively about their next expansion sets!  For instance,  instead of their usual expansion sets, maybe LEGO can get into the business of 3D Printers, colorful filaments, and pay-per-part or subscription-based libraries of simple LEGO parts…

Or risk the fate of Kodak.

Mambo Jumbo: Creating (and Changing!) a Drone Curriculum for Infocomm & Media

Nan Hua Primary Infocomm & Media CCA hired us to teach a Drone Flight School & Coding curriculum for one semester.  The club had 7 Mambo drones and 15 iPads with Tynker app installed.  Tynker is a Scratch-based block programming educational app, with built-in Mambo drone support via Bluetooth.

Tynker’s block API for Mambo was fairly limited.  Liftoff, Land, Move Up, Move Down, Forward, Backward, Turn # of Angles Clockwise, Counter-Clockwise, etc.  Not much sensory information, no real-time feedback accessible to Tynker API or the programmer.  At first, we were worried we wouldn’t be able to teach this limited API for a whole semester, but we brainstormed a fun-filled, experiential-based, challenge-framed set of lessons that exercise fundamental computing, drone flight basics, aerial photography, animation, and other topics.

Lesson 1
Flight School: basics of drone control system, flight controls, yaw/roll/pitch, etc.

Lesson 2
Obstacle Course Challenge 1: hoops, over and under desks, etc

Lesson 3
Obstacle Course Challenge 2: teams challenge each other in a duel

Lesson 4
Custom Controller: code your own flight controller with controls for funky movements like corkscrew lift, flying in a circle always pointing at center, aerial acrobatics, etc

Lesson 5
Search & Rescue: Obstacle Challenge enhanced with the Mambo’s Grabber accessory for more complicated missions

Lesson 6
Capture the Flag: Use aerial photography to capture shots of secret hiding places of the enemy team.  Retrieve material intelligence data first to win.

Lesson 7
Dance, Dance, Revolution: choreograph a band of drones to fly in an eye-capturing pattern

Lesson 8-12
Mixed Media: Now it’s time for everyone to work together.  Choreograph a mixed media show with drones, animation, and music.

Lessons 8-12 were our original intention for the program’s finale, but now we are involving the club in the new Drone Odyssey Challenge, a Science Center-sponsored, Parrot Mambo coding competition for Primary and Secondary school students.  Just in time!

Our company is flexible in the ways we work with our clients.  We build our relationship with school teachers and administrators on trust and shared passions towards the students’ well-being, enjoyment, and maximal learning potential.  We have no problems with changing course, augmenting our curricula, and delivering new topics with different instructors chosen for optimal outcomes.  Our trainers are imbued with the confidence and the knowledge to lead a complex CCA, a short module, or a single unit workshop  where a prepared slide show, or a prescribed curriculum, may or may not be the right fit for the job at hand.  We think fast on our feet, using our intuition and skills, to get the best job done.  That’s a way of working we would like to instill in the students as well, so why not be the role models they so desperately need…

Temasek Primary Team Clinches Junior Maker Engineering Award @ IDE Series 2018

Without much time to prepare, really a month, including four 1.5 hour sessions, where my time was divided among 2 competitive teams, as well as the recreational CCA groups, one of the IDE Series entries – Garbage Boat –  managed to catch the eyes of the judges and win a nice award.  I have to say, the 2-boy team was extremely excited about the project from the beginning.  When the motors that we had in class didn’t work well, they brought a couple of toy 3V motors from home and experimented with them.  They designed the garbage scoop all on their own, and even re-engineered the boat from an air-propelled craft, to a more conventional water-propeller vehicle similar to regular boats.

As we entered the competition space, we realized the boat was in a very bad shape – all the wiring had to be redone.  I worked with K-Boy, getting in a bit of experiential learning with a soldering iron, a crimping tool, and a glue gun.  He managed to secure the micro:bits, motors and props just in time for his showcase (… and get the nurse to bandage his minor soldering iron burn…).

The all-girls Sail Train team didn’t win an award, but were very proud to participate and represent their school.

CoSpace Rescue – Not As Bad As I Thought

When I first prepared for teaching skills relevant to CoSpace Rescue I thought this would be a relatively poor platform for learning proper software engineering techniques and computational thinking.  After teaching CoSpace-based curriculum for a few months in both Primary (Zhenghua) and Secondary (Pei Hwa) CCAs I have to admit the virtual simulation platform is starting to grow on me.

Unfortunately, as I have become more enthusiastic about the CoSpace framework, I’ve also simultaneously realized that my first instincts about it are also true.  As a gamification system for coding, CoSpace Rescue works well.  For the Primary School level, the GUI really helps in removing obstacles to getting started, as opposed to an all-text-based coding environment.  Kids can quickly add rules and test various event-based decision trees, without knowing any coding language.

They quickly internalize boolean operator concepts, and competing decision priorities and choices.  It isn’t a very big jump from that to utilizing state variables to create simple state machines.  Still, it has been challenging to get students used to this environment to shed the security and comfort of the game GUI with the freedom and efficiency of pure and abstract C coding.  Without the ability to abstract from the Simulation Gaming environment to the underlying C code, the students are unable to make the leap of faith and leap of computational confidence to go hacking.  That’s where the benefits of the platform start hitting a serious wall – students inculcated in nothing else for several years turn into great CoSpace Rescue developers, but not great developers… A work in progress.

Still, I’m proud of the Junior team at Zhenghua who managed to clinch the ambiguous “Judge’s Award”!

First Time @ FIRST LEGO League Competition

On Thursday, 1 March, we brought two teams from LEGO Education’s own collaboration space – Innovation Labs at the Science Center.  The experience of coaching a group of disparate primary school children from various schools and backgrounds proved more challenging than I initially thought.  There was a lot of tension, angst, and misunderstanding as we tried to get 8 kids to gel as two teams over a short period of time, where we barely had enough sessions to get the kids ready for the competition.

Luckily, some of the parents really stepped up to support us and the kids through the process.  The parental dimension added some of its own challenges, but overall it really helped the kids see the effort as important, relevant, and valuable.  The adults kept the kids fed, helped getting them focused and attentive, and even suggested design ideas that the kids were free to do with as they pleased.

Finally, in the last week after Chinese New Year, the teams started kicking into high gear and got their acts together.  By the end of our last session, we had the kids running through a mock competition round.  Spirits were a bit low as the teams could not complete more than 3-4 missions each per round.

Still, the teams seemed to perform fairly well with their presentations, and had some success and luck in round 1, so that one team managed to make it to finals.  During finals, the team went the extra mile and managed to complete a round with 100+ points – getting closer to Secondary school averages.  The competition doesn’t have separate divisions for the Secondary and Primary levels, so kudos to the kids for trying their best against Goliaths!

Awesome FLL-themed cupcakes, baked especially in honor of son for his participation in finals, by his momma, who runs Cuppacakes:

Micro:bit Innovation Projects @ Temasek Primary – Environmental Conservation

We’ve been asked to temporarily tweak the recreational LEGO Robotics CCA  at Temasek Primary into a hybrid of two CCA programs – one recreational and one focused on a design & innovation competition based on micro:bits.  Luckily we have two trainers in this program, so each of us can maintain focus on a different program.

For micro:bits, we created two teams – SailTrain & FilterBoat.

SailTrain – An all-girls team was already working on a LEGO Sail Car from an older education set (not EV3).  Using the basic design, we are adding a micro:bit driven servo motor to control the rotation of the mast and the direction of the sail.  The concept is a Renewable Energy-Powered Commuter Transport.  The sail is wind-powered, but the miro:bit/servo will be powered by Solar Panels.  If there is no wind, solar-stored power can be diverted to normal rotary actuators to drive axles/wheels directly.

FilterBoat – P5 boys team who came up with this original idea of an autonomous boat for cleaning up the lakes and reservoirs of Singapore.   The idea is based on various manual operations currently undergoing in various water bodies – for instance, see this relatively outdated operation.

In comparison, a fleet of smaller autonomous boats based on the team’s design can be deployed to operate cleaning in a 24/7 operation along the various inland water bodies of Singapore.  A unique and relatively realistic approach to automation and efficiency for a current real-world problem.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to complete the projects, movies, and posters required for both teams, but the enthusiasm is now in place to get them over the finish line!

The teams in both the competitive and recreational sides of the CCA are really enthusiastic about their various projects.  After a lukewarm reception to the idea of switching to a micro:bit competitive project, all of a sudden more teams want to participate – after seeing the cool prototypes being created!