How Stevenson engineering students designed an adaptive recorder for a Long Grove third-grader
At 8-years old, Ella Doloughty of Long Grove loves dogs, unicorns, dancing -- and anything pink. She also loves to play the recorder, and she sailed through learning the introductory songs with her third-grade class.
Yet, recently, she hit a roadblock. Ella was born without the lower portion of her left arm, and in advancing to the next set of songs on her recorder, she needed to go beyond blowing into the instrument and learn how to finger the notes.
"I want to play the recorder with two hands," she says matter-of-factly.
Enter three classes of engineering students at Stevenson High School who were looking for a real-life problem to solve using their design know-how.
"We always try to teach that engineering can help make the world a better place," says Mike Anderson, who teaches engineering design and development with Frank Radostits. "Having the opportunity to let students design something that actually helped an individual in the community, could not have been a more perfect way to let them experience that."
It was Ella's music teacher at Country Meadows Elementary School in Long Grove, Sarah Murray, who reached out to the Stevenson engineering students on this collaborative project. She had found an adaptive recorder for Ella, but Ella quickly outgrew it, just as she has her prosthetic arm, averaging one every six months, her mother, Carrie Doloughty says.
"In education, project-based learning is huge," says Carrie Doloughty, a third-grade teacher herself in Deerfield. "This was about as authentic as it gets."
Students worked in small groups to design early prototypes using computer aided design and drafting software, or CAD, and then printing them using the school's 3-D printer. Some of their designs used Aruinos circuit boards and motors, while others involved magnets, custom prosthetics and attachable bracelets.
"The challenge was making a design we thought was innovative and creative," said senior Kyle Merrick, "while also making it simple and easy enough to use for an 8-year old."
Ella and her mother met with students at Stevenson to see their designs, and they returned late last month to see the finished products. In all, they saw 18 models and Ella tried out all of them.
She particularly liked ones that were pink, featured dog stickers or looked like a unicorn.
However, in the end, she chose one that was a prosthetic arm that the team -- Charles Appel, Prateek Bynagari, and Victoria Kim -- had made to look like a unicorn horn that allowed her to play the original adapted recorder she had received from her music teacher.
"She loves it," her mother says.
The Stevenson students created the prosthetic arm using the school's 3-D printer and then incorporated one of Ella's favorite things -- unicorns.
"The project was very engaging and taught us how to work with a development process in a real-world problem," said junior Aditya Perswal. "The result was very rewarding, to see Ella happy with our design."
Junior Ethan Bugler and his group said that working to find a solution for an 8-year old girl motivated them -- and added some pressure.
"It was considerably more challenging then we had first anticipated," Ethan said. "Having an actual client made us more motivated to find a working solution best suited for Ella."
Senior Tajes Khanna described the challenge as "really fun" and much more motivating than a unit in their textbook.
"For the first time we were on our own and nothing could solve the problem except for brainstorming and testing different possibilities," Tajes said. "In the end, seeing a working solution was really satisfying."
Their teachers thought so, too.
"Our students really took ownership of tackling this problem," Anderson said. "We were blown away by their ideas and creative solutions."