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.

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!

A :Bit of Fun @ Muhammadiyah Welfare Home

We managed to find the time for a half-day, multi-disciplinary workshop at the Muhammadiyah Welfare Home for at-risk youth.  The computer lab at the center was limited to fourteen PC’s, so we had a group of fourteen kids, and we chose to use block programming as a medium, utilizing the popular and relatively cheap BBC micro:bits.

Stage One

Our team included Yoni (myself), Shenghao (resident hacker with only good intentions), and Zahab (master chemist with a heart of gold).  We wasted little time on formalities and niceties and started the secondary school-aged kids on sequencing, repetition automation, and conditional foundations using the Microsoft-provided, and Google Blockly-based simulator – social enterprise can bring out the best in everyone!  By the end of the first hour, the attendees had already designed a digital book of microMojis, original taglines, and built-in jingles, complete with pagination logic utilizing the micro:bit’s A & B buttons.

One PC was on the fritz, so Shenghao multi-tasked between troubleshooting student code and troubleshooting PC hardware.  He had all fourteen working by the time we left…

Stage Two

After a short break, the class returned to begin their second challenge – authoring their original, digital music.  At this point we handed out the actual micro:bits, so the students could start downloading their code from the simulator and into their own pocket PCs.  The brand new :bits took a bit of wrangling and calibration to setup, but we were all back to coding in a few minutes.

Once a student had completed their musical number, the obvious next question was – “how come my micro:bit doesn’t play sound?”  Which is a perfect segue to explaining the available actuators and sensors on the micro:bit.  As far as actuation, there’s not much more than the 5×5 LED matrix.  So, everyone was relieved to find we brought alligator clips and piezo buzzers along.  If we had more time, Zahab could probably have tantalized the students with her tales of piezoelectric effect on various materials.  Alas, we were anxious to move on to our next mini-module.

Stage Three

In the last hour, some students had enough foundation to be able to explore on their own and we allowed them the free time to do as they wish.  We strongly believe in open-ended projects, self-exploration, learning by trial-and-error, and mastery through play.  For instance, Zahab worked with one row on Radio blocks, which  utilize Bluetooth broadcasting for inter-micro:bit communication.  The kids in that row had fun messaging each other micro:tweets.

For other students, we devised a mini-challenge to utilize Sprites in the Game blocks menu to create a simple Cat and Mouse game using various inputs and the LED matrix visualization.  This was a stretch project, and not all completed it successfully.  The looks of joy and appreciation on everyone’s face – after the initial cries of frustration – betrayed the fact that, by and large, our mission was accomplished.
Another of our strong convictions and inherent lessons in our activities – it’s OK to fail!

In Conclusion

When we left, the attending staff member suggested we could return soon, as the fourteen students we managed to fit into the computer room were just a fraction of the boys who would be interested and could benefit from our programs.  We look forward to meeting more of the Muhammadiyah community on our next visit!

Like to join us in our volunteer sessions? Have the right STEM skills, want to do volunteer work, but don’t want or don’t have the resources to do it alone? We organize volunteer STEM courses whenever we can and will be happy to have you join us. We welcome everyone, from students to experienced robotics trainers.  Just drop us a mail at