The NJRC is an opportunity for pupils to learn teamwork, entrepreneurship and creativity through robotics.
Many kids would spend the mid-term break in September relaxing at home or hanging out in the malls. But not this bunch at Yew Tee Primary School.
Instead, their holiday was a week of teamwork and dedication to train and prepare for the National Junior Robotics Competition (NJRC). Their sacrifice paid off when two out of six participating teams from Yew Tee Primary School made it all the way through the qualifying rounds to compete in the grand finals of the NJRC at the Singapore Science Centre.
With the theme of "Saving Earth", NJRC took place from 2-6 September, pitting teams against each other in missions on a specially-designed "playing field". Using a Lego Mindstorms robotics kit, each team had to build and programme a robot that could overcome the obstacles of the course.
When the 2008 NJRC was announced in June, Yew Tee Primary School's Robotics Club rose to the challenge, assembling six teams comprising one of Pri 3 pupils, two teams from Pri 4 and three Pri 5 teams. To support their enthusiasm, the school engaged two external trainers to help the pupils in the preparations. From one training session each week, the training sessions increased to twice weekly in August as the competition loomed.
Each pupil was also assigned specific tasks based on their skills. So some were programmers and constructors whilst others played the role of leaders and operators. Close teamwork was vital as each group had to make a 5-minute presentation to the judges on "sustainable development" and produce a 2-minute video tracing their entire learning journey.
Pupils testing out a robot they had constructed.
Parents lend a helping hand
It was hard work, but the pupils never felt that it was a lonely enterprise. For many members of the school's Parent Support Group (PSG) chipped in to lend their support both moral and material.
Take Mdm Lee Mei Ling, mother of Loke Kum Yew, who is in Pri 3. With a degree in engineering, Mdm Lee has no qualms about her son's passion for robotics. To help him prepare for the NJRC, she took time to pore over the requirements of the competition in detail and guided him as he did research for the team presentation.
Noting that there were various award categories such as Best Image, Entrepreneurship, Best Newcomer and Best Team Spirit, Mdm Lee and Kum Yew brainstormed on how they could help their team stand out. Should they decorate lavishly or market themselves boldly? The ideas starting rolling and on the day of the event, their team unveiled a robotic ball game that made the "playing field" more fun and interactive for more participants.
"I think it's a great experience for him," says Mdm Lim of Kum Yew's involvement in the NJRC. "The exposure he gets and the skills he learnt through joining the compeition are more important than winning."
Two pupils showing off a robot they built.
Proud to do their best
Another PSG member who joined in the action was Mdm Amy Huang. Not an engineer herself, Mdm Huang nonetheless did her utmost to ensure that the participating pupils were taken care of. As Vice President of the school's PSG, she led a group of parents who accompanied the teams from the prelims to the grand finals, giving the pupils constant support and even buying food for the hungry kids during breaks.
"I am impressed by the pupils' efforts and feel proud of their achievements," remarks Mdm Huang. The competition took place during Ramadhan, but she observed that the Muslim pupils who were in the teams "gave their best even though they were fasting!"
It was indeed a tiring outing for Ilyas Hakim Bin Mohamed Juwahir, who was observing his Ramadhan fast. So what kept the Pri 5 pupil going? "I wanted to win!" grins the first time participant whose team went all the way to the finals.
None of the teams from Yew Tee Primary School took home an award this year, but in their minds, they were all winners. For the whole experience united the pupils and the PSG in a common vision and close camaraderie.
"We worked hard the whole day," quips Pri 5 pupil Lim Jun Wei. "I'm proud of doing my best to achieve the mission!" And as this was the first time participants from the school had made it all to the finals, Jun Wei and his teammates are now looking forward to the 2009 competition, where they hope the lessons of this year's missions will propel them to even greater heights.