Field Trip: Singapore

Chronicles of a high-tech trek by Pa. high school students. Presented by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Home Safely!

Jared here again:

Well, it's 6:00 PM Saturday night Eastern Time, and I just woke up. I just don't think the human body was designed to traverse 12 time zones in the span of a day - talk about disorienting.

It's been a day of rest, eating pizza again, and uploading pictures for the people who went on the trip (we got in at around 2AM last night). It's still to early, I think, to start to reflect on the true scope of what our trip meant both to our own team and the scope of FIRST in Singapore, but the emotional impact of what we did is just now sinking in.

FINALLY I can post some new pictures!

Teachers and students from two nations talk over breakfast at CHIJ secondary. After breakfast each day, students would shadow their Singaporean peers while teachers watched how lessons were taught in the classroom.

On Sunday some kids from Millenia Institute hung out with us at Palawan beach - of course we built a sand castle.

Ms. Campagna stands on a rope bridge with the southernmost point of Asia behind her. These pictures don't even start to capture the beauty of this part of Sentosa.

News to those who think the US has the most advanced classrooms: this was a music room at Temasek Secondary - each student used Garage Band on his/her own iMac and music keyboard to follow along. When the smallest nation in Asia can put things like this into a classroom at a "mid-range" secondary school and yet some of the richest counties in the US can't - it makes me worry for the economic future of our own country.

Final goodbyes, hugs, and email address exchanges on Thursday night before our long trek home.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sitting in Changi Airport

Jared here again, logging on one last time before I hop on the plane back to the Western world.

Last night at the hotel we had an unexpected visit from all of the teachers and students that we saw here in Singapore, and it was with many a wet eye that we said our farewells. They gave us one last basket of fruit, a myriad of gifts for all of the students, and final hugs.

I've been international several times now, and each time the trip is never quite what I was expecting. In this case, it was orders of magnitude better than my wildest predictions. Yes, we showed our robot to "oohs" and "ahhs", and in the process inspired hundreds of Singaporean school children to look into robotics and engineering, but two other things I wasn't expecting happened.

First, our team's own passion was ignited. The students who went with us don't want to leave; they were so impressed by the level of technology taught here that even those who haven't been on the technical crew in the past have voiced a desire to pursure build this season, and later engineering. The teachers were re-inspired by what they saw in the classroom, and will take those lessons home.

Second, and more importantly, we became friends with the students here. E-mail addresses, screennames, and phone numbers changed hands - my one lasting memory above all else will be when we were leaving one of the schools and Gina, a Singaporean students, shouted to our student Kate, "I love you Kate!"

We flew around the world, inspired the locals and ourselves, and left with friendships and love. How cool is that?

Flying Home

This will be the last time we can write before leaving Singapore. Today our girls returned from homestays and went to classes at an all girls Catholic School called Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ). This school has been in Singapore since it was a British trading post.

Our boys went to a Robotics lab at the Nanyang Polytechnic Institute. They saw a wide range of innovative robot design laboratories.

Later, we met back at CHIJ to crate up our robot for shipment home. Some of the students and teachers were saying their goodbyes, while others reonstructed the crate and disassembled Miss Daisy for the long flight back to Ambler.

My daughter made many great friends at this school because the girls were a little younger. She spent her last few moments writing down email addresses, giving out hugs and playing in the yard. She was very sad to leave.

Later in the day, we gave a presentation at the American Chamber of Commerce of Singapore. We also finished our trip with a visit to the section of town known as Little India.

Well its 2:00 AM here and I must get some sleep. We are leaving for the airport at 7:00 AM for the 36 hour trek back to Ambler. I am hoping that I can organize my thoughts on the plane ride and provide a good summary of our trip. But no matter how we try, there will be no way we can convey the impact that this trip has had on the lives of 13 people that lived here for 11 days in Southeast Asia in this paradise known as Singapore.

See you back home in Philly!

A Typical Day for our Team

Tuesday was a very important day. Its also very descriptive of how our days have been. We have had so much fun, excitement, action, meaningful exchange, and intense cultural immersion that we don't have much time to reflect.

Tuesday Morning:
6:45 Bus to Temasek Secondary
7:20 Opening Ceremony for School Day
7:00 - 8:30 Reception for US and Singaporean Students
8:30 - 11:30 Classroom Exchange
11:30 - 12:45 Lunch and Demonstration Setup
1:15 - 1:45 Robot Demonstration, Robotics Recruitment Drive and gift exchange
1:45 - 2:15 Interview with Singapore Newspaper
2:15 - 2:45 Pack Robot and Equipment for Shipment to ChIJ Secondary
2:45 - 3:00 Quick Group Picture and then Taxi Cabs to the US Embassy
3:15- 4:45 Presentation and Discussion with US Commercial Service at Embassy
5:30 Meet Temasek and Milennia Students in Chinatown
6:00 - 10:00 Dinner, shopping and sightseeing in Chinatown with Temasek and Millennia Students
11:00 Back to the Hotel for a few hours sleep before doing this all over again

Almost every day has been this intense, but I would not trade a single moment. However, I am looking forward to relaxing and reflecting on the whole experience. There is so much we haven't told you. I truly hope to write down our experiences on the plane ride home

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Singapore Classroom

We have been touring the schools of our Singapore partners for about a week now. These people have made a clear committment to thier children and it shows. They have caring and well supported teachers, working in an environment conducive to learning.
If you want to understand why we have trouble inspiring American students to pursue math, science, and technology. Consider this!

At our partner schools, every computer-based class offers a computer for every child, a lab tech, and a classroom assistant. We just visited a lab with 40 iMAC computers. In the corner was a pile of about 25 MAC G3s. We asked what they were for. The teacher said they were being condemmed because they were 5 years old.
All of the classrooms in Singapore have a CTX built into the ceiling. (every room) Every science lab is setup by a lab tech. Every teacher has a laptop and a desktop.
These people care about their kids!

Temasek Classroom Visits

Hi Andrea here

So today, in S'pore, consisted of another day of shadowing at Temasek Secondary School. After a breakfast of yummy chicken burgers provided by the school we followed our students to class. The two girls I was following today, Peirong and Sandy, brought me to math class, Chinese class, biology, and english. We had break where we visited the school store and bought the chinese version of a hackey sack. We then gave a presentation to their equivilant to 8th and 9th graders. They really seemed to enjoy the robot! We were then invited to stay and enjoy a short musical put on by a local group, Act 3, about harmony amoung the races of S'pore. It was really funny!

We are having a blast here and I hate to think I'll have to leave soon. Anyone who is anyone has to make it to S'pore atleast once in their life time, it is not to be missed.

Love from S'pore!

Check out Kate's post about some of the foods we've been eating! It's delicious!

The Food of Singapore

Hey Kate again!

So we're in Temasek Secondary School now for the second day. I'm just going to go a bit into detail about last night's dinner.

After shopping in a mall for several hours, the group was taken to the East Coast Food Court in Bedok, which was more like maybe 50 mini "food huts" serving ALL KINDS of foods. I personally tried the following:

-BBQ STINGRAY (my favorite of the night )

but other people in the group also tried duck, satay (meat on a stick), mango ice kechong, sugar cane juice, crayfish, and FRESH coconut (like they chop the top off right in front of you and you drink the milk with a straw and eat the meaty stuff afterwards). I really believe that I'm finally used to Singaporean cuisine and will actually miss it... but don't get me wrong, I'll be happy enough with cheesesteaks and pizza That was definitely the most interesting birthday dinner I've ever had (shout out to Aaron for wishing me happy birthday!).

Our plans for the rest of the trip now are to visit CHIJ, an all-girls school who had students on the VEX team 46. Andrea and myself will get to have a homestay with girls on the team (so excited!).

Keep checking the posts! New and incredibly interesting things are happening to us every day!


Hey, Kate here, one of the students on the Singapore trip. Tonight I have the privelege to visit with one of the girls from the CHIJ Secondary School and her family... thought I'd share the experience with you.

In detail about my homestay... Tiara's parents, Joan and Patrick, took us to the Shore Restaurant, a place on the east coast of Singapore (where they live... it takes her 30 minutes to get to school! by car!) which was RIGHT NEXT to the sea. The meal was amazing... I had beef curry, baby kai lan, fried chicken wings, and for dessert a "tennis ball"... fried ice cream and the fried stuff was green. YUMMY! They took me back to their apartment afterwards to watch SINGAPORE IDOL!!!! apparently the people who are still on the show are terrible but it was very similar to the one back in the states.

Now we're getting ready for bed and I need a lot of sleep for tomorrow... school visits again!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Remaining Schedule

We still have lots of classroom exchanges and major events left on the calendar. Here are just a few.
1) Exchange & Robot Demonstration at Temasek Secondary
2) Interview with Singapore Press
3) Presentation at the US Embassy for the US Commercial Service
4) Exchange & Robot Demonstration at CHIJ Secondary
5) Presentation at the US Chamber of Commerce in Singapore

One of the secondary goals of this exchange trip is to convince US companies to support future exchanges. We are seeking government help in identifying US companies that do regular business in Singapore.

There will also be many more gatherings with Singapore students, classroom exchanges, and tours around the country.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Science Center

Later on Friday we packed up Miss Daisy, put all of our equipment in a "Lorry" (truck), our team in a bus, and made our way to the Singapore Science Center. This presentation was definitely one of the focal points of the trip.

Our audience was made up of students, teachers, professors, and community members from across the nation of Singapore. We had an audience of over 60 people for the 2 hour seminar.

Our Singapore partners started with an introduction to the VEX competition and a discussion of how Physics can be applied to the FIRST Robotics competition.

Then Team 341 explained the inner workings of the FIRST Robotics Competition through videos, robot demonstrations and discussions with the audience. The talk lasted the full two hours and the audience participation was tremendous.
One of the best moments came during the machine demonstration. The turret drive chain came off and the team went into action. Both students and mentors jumped in to work on the machine. We fixed the machine on the spot, while discussing what happens in the pit during a FIRST competition. The audience had the chance to see what really happens and everyone cheered after Miss Daisy started working again.
People stayed for over an hour after the seminar just to talk to team members and look inside the machine. Our kids did a great job of representing our team, FIRST and our Nation.

We were very proud!

More later!


hey, this is chris and logan doing a tag team post, because only one of us could load the page.

Last night when everyone went to the light show, which we hear was amasing we went with gina and her mom to eat dinner. In the middle of the dinning area we a convayer belt, senting sushi around the room. If you saw something you liked you picked it up and ate it.

Also earlier that day, when we were at the beach we saw a small island. There was a rope bridge from the beach to the island, which we found out was the most southern point in asia. We swam across the lagoon and climbed up a tower. From that point you could see for miles in all directions. Right out side the lagoon, which was fenced in so people wouldnt get swept away by the current, and sharks couldnt get in, was a large shipping yard.

We also noticed, that a lot of people drive motorcycles. Off of what Jared said, they are very agressive drivers, the motorcycleists drive on the line, inbetween cars and then cut people off. No one seems to care. They say that if you report them you could get in trouble for hogging the road or driving too slow.

IMAGES from Singapore

How bout some pictures!?

Miss Daisy with the Millenia Institute kids.

Miss Daisy at the Millenia Institute.

Millenia Institute

On Friday morning we took part in the opening of school at the Millennia Institute. After the flag raising ceremony, our team was introduced. The crowd of 1000 students made an aisle up the center of the outdoor quadrangle and our team put Miss Daisy to work.

We drove back and forth, spun the turret and fired balls into the crowd, while one of our mentors narrated the demonstration. The Millennia students had a blast shooting balls back into the top of the machine as we drove around. It was pure fun.

Our goal with this demonstration was to inspire kids to join the Singapore Vex team and to educate kids in general, about FIRST.

If the reaction of the crowd was any indication, there are going to be alot of new faces on the Singapore VEX team this year.

Later that day we went to the Singapore Science Center which I'll discuss in my next post. Also we are hoping to start posting some pictures later today.

Talk to you soon.

The weekend's over!

Jared here again, on Monday morning. Currently we are at Temasek secondary school in eastern Singapore, and we're in the process of picking our jaws up off the floor. Let me just say that in the US, we are in trouble when the students we've been seeing all week enter the workforce: the educational system here is in many ways vastly superior to anything we have. The classes here have interested students, dedicated teachers, a LOT of technology, and you can really tell that the government/ministry of education care a lot about the kids. In the US, I think the government sometimes says it does, all the while diverting educational funding to other endeavors.

Now for some quick thoughts about this gorgeous, gorgeous place:

-Yesterday I was on the beach for most of the day, and it looked like I was in a postcard. Clear water, palm trees, resorts - just amazing. The kids we met earlier in the week came with us to the beach, and we had a great day together. However, despite twice re-applying SPF30, I'm a toasty red today. I guess that's what you get for being 70 miles from the equator...

-People drive very aggressively, but they don't seem to get angry when they get cut off or tailgated, for example. Very interesting.

-At the Science Center presentation, we got asked a LOT of technical questions - more than I can ever remember in dozens of demonstrations. Things like what kind of PID algorithms we used, the pros and cons of omniwheels, and a lot of questions that just reinforce that idea that those who think we in the US are the indisputed leaders in technology are in for a rude awakening.

-The tropical fruit here is delicious, but if anyone ever offers you something called a "durian", RUN FAR AWAY! I've never tasted a fruit that reminded me of gasoline before, and I never plan on doing it again. And the smell... Things like the local starfruit, jackfruit, and papayas are, however, amazing.

I hope to post again soon!

The WARMTH of Singapore (in more than one way)

Thursday 8/17 -

We had such a crazy, busy day that I hope I can remember everything we did. First of all, the thing I remember most about today is the warmth of the people of Singapore. Thier sincere hospitality is one of the reasons we felt so confident about making this trip. Even if you have just met someone from Singapore, it feels like you are visiting with old friends.

I will try my best to convey what we did today and how it felt.

We woke up at 5:45 AM on Thursday morning and traveled to the Millenia Institute.

We started our day in the school Quadrangle for the opening of school. In Singapore all 1000 students start thier day by meeting in the Quadrangle to sing the national anthem and school song. It was a moving experience to see all of these exuberant kids singing together with such emotion in thier voices.

The campus itself is open and airy. The grounds are filled with flowers and so is Singapore for that matter. There is also the occasional coconut tree. We often had to step around fallen coconuts on our way to class.

At the end of the opening ceremony the principal introduced our team to the school and we exchanged gifts. After this our students and teachers learned about the Millennia Institute and and went on a tour of the school. It was during our tour of the P.E. facilities that one of our great moments of the day occurred. We stepped into a group dance class, expecting to sit in the back and watch. But when the Millennia students saw us, the whole gym erupted into applause and cheering. They invited our students to join the class and they danced together for quite some time. The sight of our kids dancing on the stage with the students and instructor was something I won't forget. People from Singapore do not let you sit on the sidelines!

After the tour, our students went to different classes and the teachers met with representatives of the three Singapore Schools (Millennia Institute, Temasek Secondary and CHIJ Secondary) to map out a plan for our future exchanges. We also spent sometime working on "Miss Daisy" to get her ready for a full schedule of presentations.

Later, we all met for lunch and conversation in a conference room with our hosts and then attended a few more classes.
Then at 4:00 PM we went across the city to meet with a director of the US-ASEAN Business Council. (no that is not a misspelling, ASEAN is an Acronym). We are visiting with local business leaders in an effort to attract support for our program. We are particularly hoping that US companies that do business in Singapore will see the common interest and help fund future exchanges. I was feeling strangely tongue-tied today but the students picked up the slack and made an incredible presentation to the director. I was very proud.

After this presentation went to an awesome outdoor restaurant where you select your own dishes and cook then at your own table. The food and night air were both fabulous. After dinner we all went bowling and talked about our cultures in between the strikes, spares and gutter balls. It was a blast.

Finally, when hardly anyone could stand, we decided to return to our hotel for some much needed rest.

On Friday we have a robot demonstration for the students of MI and then the big presentation at the Singapore Science Center. I hope to write more details later.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Time to do some more demonstrations, see the countryside, and hang out with our buddies.

Hello all,

Jared here (college mentor), it's day 3 here (Friday or Thursday, depending on which side of the international date line you are sitting at the moment), and I've finally been able to get online after a busy day and a half.

The flight was not NEARLY as bad as I thought it could have been. Even though I didn't sleep much, I didn't feel dead when we landed in Hong Kong and Singapore, and in fact I think the thought of getting off the plane gave me energy anew.

After seeing the US, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore in one 36 hour span, I have a newfound outlook on the world in some ways. Looking out into vast expanses of wilderness, or into giant cities on the other side of the earth, you realize how much there really is to this planet. But at the same time, you realize that you've just travelled about as far as you possibly can around the globe without starting to wrap back around in only a day and a half - having now been directly across the world, I only now get the realization that it is finite. What looked so big on paper as a little child is in fact a mere plane ride away.

The first thing I noticed after landing was that all of the horror stories regarding Singapore's laws and customs are greatly exaggerated. It was really no different than going back into the USA. We then checked into the Sijori Resort, a GORGEOUS hotel that used to be the British army headquarters on Sentosa Island. Everywhere you look you see palm trees, beaches, pristine buildings - this place is beautiful.

The rest of Wednesday was a bit of a jet-lagged blur. We walked around Sentosa for a bit, and saw some attractions we hope to do justice to in the coming days. Some of us napped. After dinner, I was about the most tired I have ever been in my life.

Thursday we went to the Millenia Institute, and I have to say that a school that was described to us as "run down" by Singapore standards is absolutely breathtaking. Much of the school is open - the cafeteria has no walls, for example. The reaction of the student body has been nothing short of jawdropping - we get applause wherever we go. This morning we went back and demonstrated Miss Daisy in front of 900 students, amidst laughter and no shortage of "oohs" and "ahhs". To be so appreciated 15,000 miles from home? Amazing.

Last night we had Singaporean "fondue", where you pick out raw meat and cook it over open flames. Then we walked through the town, and went bowling with our friends from SMART (the Singaporean robotics team). And when I say friends, I mean it - the interaction between our students and their peers from another hemisphere is as strong as anything you see in the halls of a high school.

Well, it's back to work now - time to do some more demonstrations, see the countryside, and hang out with our buddies. I'll try to update daily now that I've figured out how to get online.

Though we're exhausted we can't help but be excited.

Hey everybody!

We're finally to S'pore (Singapore)!! After 36 hours of flight we are so glad to be back on solid ground (especially such beautiful solid ground!) Though we're exhausted we can't help but be excited about all that we are already doing. Right now I'm writing from a computer lab at the Millennia Institue, a junior college were we are shadowing students ages 17-19. The school and its kids are awesome! They are very welcoming and really know how to treat a guest (we had catered lunch). Later tonight they are treating us to dinner on a steamboat, and tomorrow we will again shadow them. Hopefully we will be able to get some pics up soon to let you see exactly what we're seeing.
Will post again soon!


Like walking through a piece of art

Hey everyone!

My name's Kate... I'm one of the students here in Singapore and I'm here to post about our stay so far.

So first of all, Singapore is BEAUTIFUL. Apparently it only takes 2 hours to get from one side of the country to the other, so they really use their space wisely. Our team is staying in Sentosa Island in a resort right next to the famous Merlion statue (it's huge!). Last night, our first night here, we met up with several students from the Vex team here to have dinner at the Harbour Front Mall. The food court's choices of food were like nothing I've ever heard of before, so you'd imagine that it was a tough decision on what to try. They taught me how to properly eat with chopsticks (although they use forks and spoons as much as chopsticks) and I even tried fried anchovies. We then were showed how their public transportation system works. It is SO much easier and efficient than in the states. Their cars all seem to be very nice and new... the technology level and architecture that I've seen so far has just been outstanding.

Today we're visiting with the students at the Millennia Institute, a secondary school for kids from 17-19 years old (kinda like a high school). They have palm trees and flowers located all over the campus... did I mention that the entire place seems like you're outdoors? It's very different than what I'm used to. Later tonight we'll be going to a steamboat dinner. I was told that we'll pick the food that we want to eat and then we get to cook it ourselves! That should be fun.

In general, I'm just loving the experience here so far. I get to learn all about their culture and make all kinds of new friends andseeing ones that I met when they came to nationals in Atlanta for Vex in the past two years and for the Vex regional in Delaware last January. It's definitely a trip that I won't forget in this lifetime.

Any questions?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

We Made It!!

We arrived in Singapore today about 1 AM (EST) It was quite a journey. It actually took 36 hours from the time we stepped on the bus in the Wissahickon HS Parking Lot until we checked into our hotel. Everyone is exhausted. The entire team is sleeping as I write this.

We also had plenty of stress worrying about our machine, held up in customs for several days. We found out the hard way, that when you ship a crate to Singapore you must send it to a registered importer. Our host the Millennia Institute (MI) is a school and was not qualified to accept the crate. It took days for (MI) to register as an importer so that the robot could stay in the country. It is now safely stored at the school. We are heading to MI on Thursday to reassemble and test the machine.

Singapore certainly is a beautiful country and our hosts are very nice people. We had an informal welcome dinner this evening with some of the students, teachers and administrators from the 3 schools. Watching the students from both countries sitting together made me realize just how special this week is going to be.

Our schedule for Thursday is:
*Welcoming Ceremony
*Tour of MI
*Assembly for the students of MI
*Meetings to plan the future of our Partnership
*Classroom observations and student classroom exchange
*Reassemble/Test Robot
*Rest at Hotel
*Sentosa Island Steamboat Dinner Cruise

Hopefully the next few entries will be from well rested students, but for now they need thier sleep.

We'll write more later.

Alan Ostrow