Tuesday, November 16, 2010

F1 Technology Challenge

After spending 3 days and 2 nights at Brisdale Hotel, KL, I am finally back home.

Was there as the team advisor for Avanzanto-R, who qualified for The F1 Technology Challenge, Petronas National Finals 2010.

When my colleagues found out that I had to be away for the challenge, they all seemed bewildered.

"But why?", they would ask.

Cikgu Hisyam is normally in-charge of anything F1-related. And even if he's unavailable, there are other more suitable teachers who know a thing or two about aerodynamics, drag coefficiency and what-not.

I mean, what do I (as an English teacher) know about such things except for perhaps how to spell them?

But since I've always had a hard time saying 'NO', Liau, Samuel, Hakim & Diana managed to get me to agree to be their team advisor.

So that was how I found myself in Brisdale Hotel last Friday. The competition spanned 3 days (Nov 14-16, 2010) but the bulk of the work began weeks ago.

In a nutshell, the challenge requires the students to: 1) design, 2) analyse, 3) make, 4) test and 5) race miniature F1 cars. A more detailed description of the challenge can be found here.

But manufacturing the cars is only part of the challenge. The students are also tasked to find sponsors to fund their various expenses. They need custom-made tyres, axles, bearings, lubricants, lacquer and paint for the cars. Further, they also need banners, buntings and various merchandise for their display booth. And not forgetting the all-important crew uniform.

Thus, the students have to find companies willing to either sponsor the said items or donate some cold, hard cash.

Besides the cars and booth, the students also have to produce a portfolio and give an oral presentation on their project.

To mount this multi-disciplinary challenge, each team member is given a specific role. The roles are: Manufacturing Engineer, Design Engineer, Graphic Designer and Resource Manager. The 4-member team also has to choose a Team Leader from among their ranks.

The F1-in-Schools Challenge is conducted in over 30 countries. The various national champions will then battle it out at the World Finals/Championship. In the 2006 World Finals, the team Aerobreaker from our school won the Fastest Car title. We have never scaled those heights again since...

DAY 1 (NOV 15)

We had an inauspicious start. You see, our cars didn't look sleek and smooth like our competitors' cars. We ran into all sorts of problem while manufacturing our cars. It was a last minute job. We sent the cars for airbrushing on Friday night with just one day to spare before the competition day!

The painting job was horrible (through no fault of the airbrushing company). Since we didn't have time to sand-paper the cars adequately + apply wood filler + sand-paper the cars again + apply lacquer, the end product looked really pitiful.

During the oral presentation, one judge even laughed when he saw our display car (ouch!). He asked whether we had sand-papered the car. When the students replied in the affirmative, he asked again; "Are you sure?" (double ouch!)

But the students took it all in their stride. They were a bit down but not completely demoralised. We were still hopeful that the car would perform well. Who knows? Maybe what the car lacked in aesthetics, it made up for in speed.

DAY 2 (NOV 15)

Today's the race day! All the cars were lined up beside the 20-metre race track. You can easily spot ours - the roughest looking ones of the batch. Haha.

Before the racing started, the students were given exactly 1 hour to set up their booth.

There were 2 types of race: The Time Trial one and the Reaction Race (I'm not sure what's the difference though).

We were up against the team 'Flash Infinity' from Malay College Kuala Kangsar. We won one race but were later knocked-out. Our car clocked 1.17sec which was quite respectable. We felt sort of vindicated; Our car may not look like a racing car but it sure performed like one! :)

That night, we went to Pavilion. The students belanja-ed me Old Town because it was my birthday. Hazelnut White Coffee and Kaya+Butter Toast had never tasted so good :)

DAY 3 (NOV 16)

The final day of the competition. VIPs came to see the final race, inspect the booths and give away the prizes.

There were many categories -some of which have really funny names- but we didn't win any of them. I wished my team had won something. Didn't even care if it were one of the funnier-sounding ones!

But we didn't. Samuel put in all in perspective: "Takpe Teacher, we may not win any prizes, but we've won many friends".

"And many hearts", Hakim quipped. I wasn't sure whether he meant the judges' hearts or some female ones...

Here's the list of winners:

Overall Champion: Team Velospeed F1 (SM Sains Hulu Selangor)

The team also won these subsidiary titles:
-Best Newcomer Award
-Best Team Portfolio Award
-Petronas Knock-Out Champion

1st Runner-Up: Team Adroit (SMK Aminuddin Baki)

Adroit also won Best Verbal Presentation Award.

2nd Runner-Up: Team Celeritas F1 (SM Datuk Abdul Razak)

Celeritas also took the coveted Best Engineered Car Award.

Team Excel Vision from SMK Batu Lintang was also a big winner, grabbing 3 titles which are:
-Innovative Thinking Award
-Fastest Car Award
-Best Team Sponsorship & Marketing Award

To round it off, Team Extreme Flash (from SMK Kuala Kubu Bharu) took home the 1Malaysia Best Team Collaboration Award while Team Shockwave (from Kolej Sultan Abdul Hamid) won the Perseverance in the Face of Adversity Award.


Though we lost, I think the students have learnt a lot from the challenge. They've learnt to be more resourceful, creative, patient, persuasive and cooperative (at least that's what they had written in their feedback forms!).

I really think that this challenge yields many benefits. The students learn things they wouldn't have experienced in a normal classroom - things that would serve them well in the real world.

So, any form 3 students who are interested to join the challenge next year, do your preparations early! You can consult your seniors for any assistance. They'll be m0re than happy to help because on our way back to school the team vowed; "Kita mesti bersihkan balik nama baik sekolah kita".

It's a gruelling challenge, but you'll enjoy it, I promise. Just find yourselves a more qualified team advisor, not some clueless English teacher.

Oh, and I'd like to thank Avanzanto-R's sponsors for their generosity:

Thank you KPS for your cash contribution, Proseeska for our crew uniform, Wang Display Solution for the banner and buntings, THT Mould Engineering for our nylon tyres and Advanco for the 50% off printing. We would never have made it to the Finals without your support!

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Essential 55

Have you ever seen the movie The Ron Clark Story/The Triumph? It was one of those inspiring teacher movies. In the movie, Ron Clark transformed his "difficult" students into high-achievers by introducing a set rules.

Creating rules in order to manage students' discipline might not be a particularly novel and groundbreaking idea. But as a teacher, I know that creating rules and successfully implementing them are two completely different things.

In his book, The Essential 55, Mr. Clark shares with readers his tried-and-tested rules and how they work in his classroom.

For me, the rules themselves are not the main attraction of the book. But the stories behind them are. My favourite chapter is Rule 11: "Surprise others by performing random acts of kindness. Go out of your way to do something surprisingly kind and generous for someone at least once a month". Coincidentally, it is the longest chapter in the book. The chapter details one of the most amazing projects Mr. Clark's students were involved in and how going out of your way to do something wonderful for others is oh-so worth it.

As evident with Rule 11, the set of rules does not only concern classroom dos and don'ts (e.g. Rule 19: "When homework is assigned, do not moan or complain"). They also encompass eating etiquette, good manners, kind acts and living you life to the fullest.

It always annoys me when my students litter, forget to say 'Thank you', cheat during exams, curse, etc. But I haven't really done anything about it other than verbally reprimanding them.

Sometimes, I even choose to ignore the acts. I mean, if I had to reprimand each and every misbehaviour, I would never get to classes on time. I would have to stop every 2 metres or so to ask students to tuck in their shirts/use the boys' staircase/ pick up the trash/etc. I figured that I need to choose my battles, no?

My lack of action maintains the status quo or may have even exacerbated it.

Therefore, I was really impressed with what Mr. Clark has achieved. I concur with him that "kids need and like structure" but I guess, sometimes I'm just not strong-willed and steadfast enough to implement one.

Oftentimes, when I grew frustrated, I just complained; "Don't their parents teach them these things at home?"

Now I realise that though parents are ultimately responsible for instilling good values in their children, teachers should do their bit too.

Another major thing that I got from reading the book is how dedicated a teacher should be. Ron Clark is an award-winning teacher and it's not hard to see why. He typically spends hundreds of dollars a month on books/contest prizes/other items for his students, take them on 25-30 small trips a year, bake them cookies, learned to double-Dutch, etc.

Wow. My effort seems meagre when compared to his and yet I often complain about burnout and tiredness.

Lastly, I was struck by his teaching philosophy. When he was about to take over his first class, the teacher before him said; "As long as you can affect the life of one child, you've been a success".

He disagreed with that stand. "[He approaches] each year with the knowledge that [he has] only one year to make a life's worth of difference in each child in that classroom, and [he gives] it everything [he's] got".

Feeling inspired already? Then, do get hold of the book and read it! :)