Developing Emerging Greatness in Robotics, Engineering and Electronics (D.E.G.R.E.E.)

This year, we formalized our community service arm under a new name – D.E.G.R.E.E.  Through D.E.G.R.E.E., we support the FIRST and greater robotics communities in a variety of ways.

In 2013, we travelled to Cambodia to help launch an FLL team at the Liger Learning Center.  That team has now been working for a number of years, starting at FLL and eventually moving to VEX, then MATE and hopefully soon to FRC, demonstrating our commitment to long-term engagement.

This year, we support eight youth FLL teams around Singapore, using our extensive FLL experience to to coach them on world class practices and great robot skills.  Our FLL curriculum is divided into a number of specific elements: strategy, research and presentation, along with a healthy respect for core values.

In order to promote strategy on our teams, we give advice on how to group multiple missions into one run, improving their efficiency.  To support our FLL teams, we bring in experts using our extensive connections to help the teams learn more about the problems. We connected our teams to a number of experts including Jyoti Shukla, director of the Global Water Program at the World Bank to learn more about what can be done

Team members hold specialized mock judging sessions to give the teams practice in presenting their robot.  The presentations that they do are similar to the ones we have to do, and we gain experience from this as well.

Last year, the actual performances of the teams exceeded our wildest expectation.  Out of over 200 teams in Singapore, all seven of our teams made the robot game finals.  Out of the specific area awards, our teams won four, including two in the region of core values.  The principle of Gracious Professionalism applies there as well. Then, one of our teams came 3rd place overall in the secondary division and another team came third place overall in the primary school division.  We hope that with more support, our teams will perform even better this year.

With our sponsors Duck Learning and i.am+, we have been working on a program to help underprivileged teams, which we launched as a pilot this year with team members driving down to poorer parts of Singapore to help teams with fewer resources.  We will be expanding this program in future years.

Individual team members contribute 6 hours a week to our teams – we want to support them as much as possible.  D.E.G.R.E.E. is all about hands-on mentoring for the whole build season.  One Degree North also provides resources including lab time and mentoring sessions to whichever team wins the Singapore Regional, since we’re more familiar with the format of the FLL World Festival.

Using our partnership with Duck Learning, we’ve been able to dream bigger about FIRST in Singapore.  We’re hoping to create a multi-school FTC team of high flyers to represent Singapore in international tournaments, and eventually bring FTC back to Singapore.

Our outreach extends far beyond FLL.  Our team founded the first two official VexIQ teams in Singapore and put pressure to create a world-qualifying tournament, which we did.  Our team and D.E.G.R.E.E. members fully coached two VexIQ teams, one of which won the Design Award at the Singapore Regional.  We also hosted the Singapore Holiday VexIQ Scrimmage to prepare teams for the competition.

Aside from the 10 FLL teams and 2 VexIQ teams, we support 4 VEX teams and 2 MATE teams, all of whom receive weekly guidance from team members.  We’ve also connected with FRC teams all over the world including a rookie FRC team in Mexico.

In addition, other team members work at the Da Vinci Science Center to form other youth robotics teams.  One of our team members also shares his coding knowledge through the “Code to Create” program. Many kids have been inspired and taught coding by this curriculum.

Engineering Notebook

Each day, after all our work is done, we write an Engineering Notebook entry about the work that has been on that day.  Many teams do this, but every day, we clean up our entry and publish it on our website.  This helps in a number of ways:

  • Team members who miss a meeting are kept apprised of recent developments on the robots.  This allows everyone to get caught up and ready to work for the next meeting.
  • Sponsors, mentors, parents and supporters can get an up to date look at the progress of the team.  This assures the people who have invested in our success that we are not simply taking their time and money and goofing off
  • We write down design ideas and calculations, even those that we’ve scrapped, in the Engineering Notebook.  This allows us to come back to them later, if we realize they hold water after all.
  • A normal website can give only a surface level view of the progress of our team.  Having our Engineering Notebook up there allows curious members of the general public and other teams doing pre-scouting learn a lot more about us.  We hope that this helps teams know us better and members of the public get interested in robotics through our journey
  • We hope to write down the problems we faced and how to solve it as a resource for rookie and other inexperienced teams so that they can solve those problems too when they run into them.  It is yet our first year writing the Engineering Notebook, but over time, we hope this will accumulate as a directory.

Booths and Demonstrations

As a team, we have a commitment to sharing our message to students across Singapore and in the broader community.  Over the past year, we’ve held demonstration at:

  • Singapore FLL Regional
  • SAS International Fair
  • MakerFair
  • NRC Robotics Fiesta
  • Friday Night Lights

Through these opportunities, we’ve been able to spread the message of FIRST to over 1000 students, some of which we hope will be ready to join our team when the time comes.

In addition, team members have spoken publicly about the need for higher standards in robotics education.  Team Captain Rohit Narayanan was a presenter at the EduTech Asia conference, the largest educational technology conference in the region, where he spoke about ways of teaching Middle School robotics.

FIRST runs on volunteers and that is one of the things that we love about the program.  As the only FRC team in Singapore, we have a responsibility to the community to support the FIRST infrastructure.  Team members annually volunteer at the FLL tournament in Singapore.  Team affiliated personnel serve as referees and runners, allowing the tournament to be run without a hitch.  There were over 100 teams when we volunteered last year and we’re sure they appreciated our contribution

Starting FRC Teams

We are still the only team in Singapore, and one of two in Southeast Asia.  Our goal is to make sure that that ceases to be true in the coming years. We’ve engaged in significant efforts to expand FRC in the area, including a planned demonstration and resources intended to make starting from scratch easier.

Among the schools we’ve reached out to in Asia:

  • SMP Muhammadiyah 2 Cilacap School (Central Java, Indonesia)
  • Hwa Chong Institution (Singapore)
  • Anglo-Chinese School (Singapore)
  • Canadian International School (Singapore)
  • International School of Bangkok (Bangkok, Thailand)
  • American International School, Chennai (Chennai, India)
  • National Public School (Singapore)
  • St. Joseph’s Institution (Singapore)

We keep tabs on the status of the robotics program in each of these school, judging when each is ready to move to FRC.

Intro To FRC and Sustainability

We’ve focused heavily this year on making sure that our program is sustainable in the long run.  The first step was increasing recruitment substantially by reaching out to groups that might not normally choose robotics.  Through a month-long drive, we were able to increase interest from 10 in 2018 to over 100 in 2019. All were given the option to go through our Intro to FRC curriculum, designed by the team captains with modules on:

  • Design thinking
  • QCAD (2D CAD)
  • Basic fabrication
  • Gear math
  • Mechanism terminology
  • Programming algorithms
  • Outreach skills

The course is rigorous and has workshops and quizzes at each stage to ensure understanding.  People who passed the course were placed on our team or one of our feeder MATE teams. Teams all over the world have received and been able to use our curriculum.

In order to make sure that our team is stable in future years, we’ve reserved 20% of team spots for ninth grade interns.  We also have a program for eighth graders to start learning what we do by the time they’re ready for high school.  To promote skills training in the Middle School, we’ve promoted FLL and VexIQ teams in that division.

Bridging the Gender Gap

Our team has made significant efforts to bridge the gender gap in STEM this year.  We started by setting a goal for 40% of our team to be female, which we exceeded.  Then, we held a mandatory event for team members – “Women in STEM,” where female STEM professionals discussed their careers and what we could do to address the toxic male culture in STEM fields.  One of our speakers was Anne Colwell, a chemical engineer at Exxon Mobil.

We have also tried to promote gender diversity in our outreach.  One of our teams got a “Girls in STEM” scholarship to compete in the VexIQ competition, since their team was majority girls.