Learning through Play with Lego Mindstorms
Singapore is a vibrant innovation hub where driverless buses, city-wide sensors and electronic fingerprints are on the cards. When implemented, these new technologies will create better living environments, greater mobility and a thriving digital economy.
To propel this dream forward, the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) is producing a steady pipeline of professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) who can go beyond designing and building things to developing smart, long-lasting solutions.
“We are moving towards a Smart Nation and STEM vocations are trending upwards. However, we are facing a challenge in fuelling interest in STEM among youth,” comments Assistant Professor Victor Wang, Engineering Cluster, SIT. “They think that STEM vocations typically come with big responsibilities, and work tends to be tedious and requires longer hours.”
To pique the youth’s interest in STEM, SIT launched the Young Engineers’ Space (YES!) initiative in 2017.
Under the YES! programme, upper secondary students from Tanglin Secondary School (TSS) were invited to work with SIT undergraduates on hands-on, community-linked projects. SIT undergraduates, on the other hand, undertook the role of student mentors to aid and guide participants through their thinking process.
In particular, TSS students undertook introductory robotics and engineering design lessons over a period of six months respectively. In introductory robotics, Secondary 3 students learnt simple programming and logical reasoning skills, as well as grasped working principles behind electronic kinematics and sensor technologies. Secondary 4 students, on the other hand, were tasked to design and build a prototype hydroponics system for their school.
Students from Tanglin Secondary School undergoing robotics classes under the YES! Programme.
The result of the initiative was clear: 95% of the participants found STEM interesting after undergoing the programme as compared to 78% before, while 89% found a career in STEM interesting, twice more than before the programme. The number of students who felt neutral about or had no interest in a career in STEM also dipped from 50% to 11%.
Educators at SIT believe that the YES! programme helps youth realise that STEM can achieve what no one can envisage. “We wanted to be deliberate and strategic in giving our younger generation the exposure to STEM projects, activities and concepts, and link them to real life experiences that are tangible and beneficial to them and the community,” Asst Prof Wang explains.
“Once students witness the good that can come out of their willingness and interest to learn, they will take STEM to greater heights.”
“Every Wednesday afternoon, we would gather with TSS students at SIT’s tutorial rooms,” recalls Leow Jun Kai, 27, a former student mentor from SIT’s Sustainable Infrastructure Engineering (Building Services) degree programme. “We used Lego Mindstorms to help our mentees gain a quick overview of robotics. Instead of learning a programming language in full, we shared with them the basics of block-based programming. We also introduced them to the various engineering laboratory facilities at the SIT, such as the wind tunnel and gas turbine.”
Lego Mindstorms are used to teach robotics ad block-based programming.
Jun Kai, who has graduated from SIT in 2019, recalls how mentors sacrificed their hours, often juggling between mentoring and their coursework. “Despite the hectic schedule we had, all of us persevered through. This goes to show that service learning is indeed fulfilling.”
He observes that his student mentees were quick to pick up on programming, after which “their creativity just ran wild”. Through this programme, Jun Kai hopes to impart valuable problem-solving skills and critical thinking as they continue to collaborate on new innovative ideas. “Our team of mentors actively promoted positive attitudes towards the use of technology in solving real-world issues,” he says. “We made it a point to emphasise that lifelong learning is a personal responsibility.”
“Whenever a problem arose, we would aid students in making sense of the issue and guide them in solving it,” Jun Kai continues. “By persevering in the face of adversity, we hope that the experience would help them understand that problems can be fixed.”
Jun Kai strongly believes that the YES! programme will go a long way in drumming up interest in robotics and technology. “The YES! experience will give students the confidence to strive for a career in STEM.”
The case study on ‘Young Engineer's Space (YES!) to Integrate Learning, Industry and Community' was featured in the book 'Applied Learning in Higher Education: Perspectives, Pedagogy, and Practice'. The book is available for purchase online from Informing Science Press, Amazon, and Google Play.