The Design and Engineering program at Concord High School set out to educate their students in the ways of practical engineering, but moreover are on a mission to use that knowledge to improve the lives of others.
Jordan Estock is the teacher for their curriculum.
"So the problem that we came about with is at an elementary school in our district, Hanby Elementary--we met with a teacher over there, Mrs. Shenkle, who works with a class that has students with pretty severe disabilities and intense special needs. In September, all the students went over to Hanby on a field trip and observed Mrs. Shenkle with her students and we were able to see just what those students could and could not do," Estock said. "We got a good grasp on their abilities, disabilities and got to see a lot of the struggles that they have on a daily basis--really, the lack of independence that these students have because of their disabilities, so after that field trip we came back here to debrief and talk about everything we saw. Each team shared ideas about what they thought would be a useful device to lead to some increased independence, help out with some fine and gross motor skills deficiencies, help with dexterity issues the students were having as well as teach some academic concepts like cause and effect, simple colors, letters and shapes--things like that. From that debriefing session, each team has been prototyping for the last three months so we can get ready this week and next to go back to Hanby with our prototypes and see how the teachers and students respond with these new devices in their hands."
Estock saw a contest sponsored by Samsung that would further reward his students for the work they were already involved in.
"The Samsung Solve For Tomorrow contest, that award came directly from this project. It's not ne specific device, in particular--but the whole concept of our students partnering with Hanby, helping students with disabilities and developing assistive technologies that will increase their independence," he added. "That whole concept is what's getting recognition."
He noted the program at Concord High School sets up those engineering students for success, and for the right reasons.
"That theme of giving back seems to be all the motivation the students need," said Estock. "It's nice to have the prize money and the technology attached to it, but we were doing this project anyway and we saw it aligned well with what Samsung was after, so it's just an added inspiration for the kids to say they're getting some recognition for this. It's nice to receive that, for sure."
The help out in the community won't stop with this project, it's ingrained within the program.
"So once we present to Hanby, about a month ago all the students were asked to start looking for that next problem, so it won't be teacher-centered where we just have another project. Each student was asked to go out and find a client that needs help and then run that problem through a rubric that we have that determines if it's a feasible project for us to pursue or not," he said. "I've combed through those submission--some were good and some were not. We'll have some conversations around which direction we go, based on the submissions that we received."
To the solution at hand, the students at Hanby Elementary are in for some treats. Cole Snyder is helping one student who aspires in music with a light-button keyboard.
"It's a piano for Luke, one of the students at Hanby," said Snyder. "It will help him with his motor skills and help him learn musical skills because he has a keyboard at home and he likes music, so I thought I would build this for him."
AJ Park is part of a team that is combining buttons, sounds and an L-E-D screen to help a student learn more immersively.
"We were thinking of doing other ideas to help their fine motor skills with stuff for their hands but we decided to go with this because we thought that they work better with lights, flashing and hearing things," said Parks.
As for what's next after this project?
"We have this idea to help a local church because they need things to make things easier," he said. "We can also help people who are disabled and can't move very well."
Snyder wants to help out with a family project.
"My mom and her coworkers are therapists, locally, and they had a problem that needed fixing," said Snyder. "Basically, they have chimes on their door to find out when someone walks in, but they don't know who they are there to see. I was going to make some sort of a button system that makes sounds in their office, for whoever they're waiting for."
With the program garnering some national attention, Estock notes that the program sets students up to succeed in classrooms throughout education as well as the convenient contest.
"I get stories all the time, especially as we just had the holiday season go by so that was an opportunity where all of the college kids come back and talk about their experiences," said Estock. "It's nice to hear, as their teacher, that they had an experience that a lot of their classmates didn't have. With a year or two of college under their belt, they are coming back and telling me this program really prepared them and a lot of their classmates didn't have that opportunity, so that's always good to hear."
He credits the school's wide array of resources for the program as part of the success.
"I think the connection to community--we pride ourselves in not just doing something for the sake of doing it, but let's get some skills to be productive citizens and find ways to use our skills to give back to the community," he added. "I'm not sure you're going to see that at a lot of other engineering programs. We also just have an unbelievable amount and level of technology that the kids have access to. Aside from just laser-cutters and 3d printers, if you just take a 30-second stroll around the room, you're going to find stuff that I think you'd be surprised to find in a high school curriculum. We've come a long way from what we used to call 'shop.'"
The Concord program has been selected the top 50 as the state representative and have raked in $20 thousand and some cool samsung gear.
Next up, they have to make a 3 minute video about the project and its impact. When all is said and done, the grand prize could total $100 thousand more.