Their task was to design an amphibious vehicle, as part of an ITE skills competition.
The first time Lucas Yap and Mohamed Idham Mohamed Amin tested their model, it couldn't start.
Then the boys, aged 14 and 13 respectively, realised that the wiring was wrong.
They finally got it right on the fourth attempt. The vehicle, made from styrofoam, helped the students from Spectra Secondary School win the competition.
Last Monday, the Institute of Technical Education organised its annual ITE Skills Challenge to get secondary school students interested in science and technology.
The competition was also meant to encourage participants to pursue careers in engineering, electronics and info-comm technology.
Winners in each of the categories were awarded a medal and a certificate of merit.
A total of 426 students from 40 schools took part, competing in nine categories. (See report above.)
Lucas and Mohamed entered the Amphibious Vehicle Design category and had to build a small vehicle using only recycled materials, which could move on water and land.
They faced obstacles on their route to success, such as the vehicle being too heavy to move.
Mohamed said: "Every time we failed, we came up with a new idea to make it work."
His partner added: "It felt good when it worked."
Their teacher-in-charge, Mr Lam Shen Keong, 55, was proud of the boys' resilience.
He said: "When it failed, they would get more ideas and do more tests. (This competition has) built interest in them; they came up to me and asked me 'Sir, when's the next competition?'"
Mr Lam added: "I'm proud of them because they achieved something that they didn't think they could.
"They saw the other vehicles that day and thought the others were so good. They had no idea that they could win."
Both students had previously struggled with discipline issues.
But after taking more hands-on classes in school on topics they were interested in, their attitudes changed.
Lucas' father, interior designer Alvin Yap, 42, recalled his son's mischievous days in primary school: "His grades were very poor all the way to PSLE. He never did his homework and didn't like studying at all.
"He likes IT and hand-on activities. If you tell him to study in classrooms and give him a textbook, he won't be interested.
"I'm very happy that the school gave him this kind of competition to compete in."
Lucas' partner has a similar past.
Mohamed said: "I used to cause trouble and kept getting scolded.
"Actually, I hate reading textbooks because it's boring.
"Maybe I learnt more from building the car than I did from reading textbooks."
Mohamed, who previously disliked working with others, also learnt about teamwork through the competition.
Lucas and Mohamed, who are now in Secondary 2 are part of the pioneer batch of students at Spectra Secondary School.
The school, which includes vocational subjects in its curriculum, took in its first batch of Secondary 1 students last year.
Both Lucas and Mohamed look forward to attending a mechanical servicing class the school offers. It teaches them the basics of mechanical servicing and maintenance of bicycles, in-line skates and skateboards.
Mohamed's mother, Madam Izawati Selamat, 48, told TNP about her son's knack for handling and fixing devices.
"When he was young, he liked to see his dad fix the computer and learn from him.
"Now, he refers to YouTube to fix mobile phones. He can also fix household appliances."
The pair said that they hope to pursue mechanical engineering in the future.
Mohamed said: "Maybe next time, we can create our own car and our own company."
Competition to promote engineering and IT tech
The grand finals of ITE Skills Challenge 2015, held at the ITE College Central last week, promotes engineering and info-comm technology to secondary school students.
A total of 426 competitors from 40 schools took part in the annual competition, more than the 181 students from 26 schools in its first edition two years ago. This year's winners are:
Watercraft Design and Race Competition: Shuqun Secondary School
Electronic Flying Saucer Challenge: Pasir Ris Crest Secondary
Amphibious Vehicle Design Challenge: Spectra Secondary School
Robotics Challenge: Compassvale Secondary School
Waste to Craft with Technology Competition: Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road)
Mechatronics Challenge: Hillgrove Secondary School
Web Design: St. Gabriel's Secondary School
PICobot Mobile Robot: Gan Eng Seng School
Laser Show Design Competition: Regent Secondary School
This article was first published on Mar 9, 2015.
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