Primary school innovators turn ideas into inventions

Instead of sitting at a desk solving mathematical equations, pupils who attended the Sunburst Make-A-Thon from May 31 to June 2 created prototypes offering solutions to real-world problems they had encountered.

Organised by the School of Science and Technology (SST) in a first-time collaboration with the Singapore Technologies Endowment Programme (Step), the event involved 151 pupils from 19 primary schools.

It was the first time the Make-A-Thon event, which started in 2014, had reached out to only primary schools.

SST's principal, Ms Linda Chan, said: "We see the need to seed and nurture interest at an early age."

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She added that the collaboration with Step would "provide students with differentiated platforms to learn and explore their talents and interests", as nurturing passionate innovators is a core mission of the school.

In teams of five, pupils were assigned different roles: leader, designer, maker, coder and marketer. Based on this, participants went on learning journeys to organisations, such as home improvement product company Home-Fix, pest management firm Pestbusters and green packaging company Greenpac, and created prototypes of their ideas after consultation and training sessions.

The teams were judged on innovation, user experience and pitching by a panel which included Step's chairman, Professor Leo Tan, and Pestbusters CEO Thomas Fernandez. The top three teams won medals and a box of micro:bit, a pocket-size codeable computer used in their prototypes that included LEDs, an add-on board and other sensors.

FRESH IDEAS

We see the need to seed and nurture interest at an early age.

MS LINDA CHAN, principal of School of Science and Technology.

ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY

It was a new experience. I have seen a 3D printer before, but not a 3D pen.

ADELE LIM YU QING, 11, a pupil at Nanyang Primary School, who was excited about using a 3D printing pen to create her team's logo.

These were the winning inventions:

THE SEAT AND SPACE DETECTOR SYSTEM

Nanyang Primary School Team A, which was the winning team, was given the topic of mobility and transport. The members came up with an idea to solve the problem of finding a seat on the MRT.

Their solution was to fit every MRT seat with a sensor that would detect a passenger's presence. The number of available seats would be displayed outside the doors of every carriage so that commuters would know at a glance which carriage to go to.

The team also won the Best Marketer award for a skit the members performed about an elderly man looking for a seat on the train. The skit incorporated a rap with humorous lyrics such as, "There are tears in my eyes, as I wave my seat goodbye".

THE LIGHT-CONTROLLED BED RAIL

The team from Kong Hwa School, which came in second, created an automated bed rail that responds to light. The five Primary 6 pupils were also awarded Most Innovative team.

The bed rail, which is designed for the elderly, is fitted with a light sensor. The bed rail will move up when the room is dark and fold down when the lights are switched on. This is to prevent accidents involving elderly patients falling out of bed as the automated bed rail would provide extra protection.

When the team was tasked with the topics of safety and security, team member Seth Yeo recalled how he once fell off a bunk bed - because it had no bed rail - and sprained his ankle.

The team's research included statistics from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, which showed that in 2014, 835 people in the US died from falling out of bed.

THE SMART BAG

Coming in third was Nanyang Primary School's Team B. Their invention was aimed at ensuring that pupils' school bags are not too heavy for their size.

The team's invention involved fitting a micro:bit into a bag that would beep when the bag is heavier than 20 per cent of the pupil's weight. The prototype bag was made of foam and cardboard, and team members acted out a skit about a mother introducing the Smart Bag to her daughter.

But the team's creativity did not stop there - the micro:bit would also beep hourly to remind the pupil to drink water.

Primary 5 pupil Adele Lim Yu Qing, 11, said she was excited that she got to use a 3D printing pen to create the team's logo. "It was a new experience. I have seen a 3D printer before, but not a 3D pen," she said.


Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2017, with the headline 'Primary school innovators turn ideas into inventions'. Print Edition | Subscribe