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Designing an Orthotic Prototype Leads Students on a Creative Journey

The design challenge for students was to work within a team to sketch, design, build and test a prototype ankle-foot orthotic for a child that has cerebral palsy. The seventh-graders in the Project Lead the Way Gateway classes met the design and modeling challenge in a big way.

Piecing together cardboard, elastic, duct tape and other objects, the orthotic braces created by the students showcased various ideas and design elements. In its first year at Amherst Middle School, the PLTW Gateway program engages students in activities that not only build knowledge and skills in areas including computer science, engineering, and biomedical science, but also empower students to develop essential skills such as problem solving, critical and creative thinking, communication, collaboration, and perseverance.

The team of Eric Guzdek and John Bewley had two good ideas as a starting point. They did not think their first idea would work, so they changed their idea to go in another direction. "We had a prototype of a prototype," said Bewley. In the end, they ran out of time to make even more modifications to their design.

Pictured (l to r) are John Bewley, Eric Guzdek, Grace Dudek, Amaya Withers and Jade Woodley.

Five middle school students hold their projects

For Grace Dudek, it was the first time she had experienced a classroom assignment that had her design something and she loved it.

The students had to be creative in their designs to meet some project criteria. The prototypes had to attach to a patient's foot and lower leg while also allowing upward movement at the ankle toward the shin or front of the leg. The design had to allow the foot to be placed flat on the floor when standing. It also had to support the foot, ankle, heel and arch of the foot, be comfortable and removable.

Amaya Withers worked in a team of three students and they wanted to make the sole of their prototype stronger by adding another layer or thicker cardboard. She said her group had to modify their initial design ideas.

Jade Woodley had the luxury of working with just one other student and thought that made it easier to reach consensus on ideas, design and division of work tasks.

The PLTW Gateway course, introduced this year for all seventh- and eighth-graders, is a foundational course that paves the way toward the high school Project Lead the Way (PLTW) strand. The Gateway course focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) topics with interactive, hands-on projects to problem-solve solutions to challenges. Seventh grade students focus on design and modeling. The eighth-grade component focuses on automation and robotics.

"The engineering target of PLTW mixed with the more traditional building projects provides students with a stellar balance for a technology program," said Bruce Karas, Amherst Middle School technology teacher. "The introduction of this course, design and modeling and the entire Project Lead the Way program will be very valuable to all our students. This hands-on program boosts classroom engagement and creates excitement to drive collaboration and comprehension. Students lead their own exploration and tend to be more focused on the task at hand and problem-solving than wasting time."