East Students Engineer Solutions to Change Lives

East Students Engineer Solutions to Change Lives
Posted on 04/01/2019
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Four students hold the prototype of the prosthetic hand they have engineered for a Shawnee ECS student through their capstone project.How does Lakota East and Butler Tech engineering teacher Ken Kinch motivate his students? He hands them a project that has the potential to change someone’s life.

For East senior Cali Hoffman and the rest of her team, that someone is a four-year-old at Shawnee Early Childhood School who was born without a hand. Since the beginning of the school year, they have dedicated every minute of class - and then some - to create a fully customized and functional prosthetic hand for her.

“Our driving force has been that we can’t let this four-year-old down,” said Hoffman, pointing out the poster that has been hanging above their work table for months as a reminder of their mission and the special relationship they’ve built with her. It details their individual responsibilities, deadlines and these words: #DotheWork #theEastWay #WEareLakota.

The project is the culminating point of a four-year journey that some Lakota high-schoolers take to pursue their interest in engineering. Kinch requires just three things of the senior year capstone class project before he sets his students loose for the year. “I tell them it has to use the skills you’ve learned, relate to something you’re interested in and help our community in some way. The rest is up to them,” he said. 

Students can choose to work individually or in teams. They have full access to the suite of tools and machinery available in their classroom, but are also encouraged to lean on industry experts for guidance and resources that go beyond the scope of their classroom. It’s a move that has paid off tremendously for one group that is creating a custom mobile stool to help another Lakota student with dwarfism overcome some of his daily challenges. 

The group struck up an early partnership with a global design and engineering firm called Kinetic Vision. Besides gaining a direct communication line for, at times, daily problem-solving, the group has been able to use industry-grade 3D printers to print a more durable prototype and eventually, the finished product.

“I’m formally talking to or emailing a professional almost every day. It’s very cool to have that experience,” said senior Emma Krabbe. 

“The cool part is the freedom and the fact that they’re working with experts,” Kinch said. “They’re sitting across the table from real engineers and problem-solving alongside them. That’s real-world learning.” 

Although the premise is ultimately up to his students, Kinch did put an emphasis on adaptive technology this year, partnering with East special education teachers Ellen Bowmann and Stacey Walsh. He leaned on their network of Lakota's physical and occupational therapists to help identify their students’ most common daily challenges and then share them with his students as potential problems to solve. 

One group learned that board games are commonly used to encourage socialization in East’s multiple disabilities classrooms, but come with the physical obstacle of being able to reach the pawns. The group latched on to the idea and created a game that used laser beams in place of pawns and a button to move them around the board.

All together, the two classes will turn out 16 different innovations, most of them not matching anything currently on the market. And while the finished products may be the most impressive part of it all, it’s the process that the students have appreciated.

“You have to work as a team and figure out what people like and what they’re best at,” said seniorBen Roth.  

“It’s really prepared us for what’s to come,” Hoffman said. “You’re not always going to be 100 percent successful the first time and you just have to bounce back and keep experimenting until you get it right.