Problem solving is an integral part of the learning experience at Long-View, and Indigo Band learners are working on the unique, not to mention complex, endeavor of constructing a prosthetic hand that can handle (pun intended) the task of grasping and lifting a cup of sand with a weight of at least 200 grams.  “One of the biggest challenges is that we have to design it using materials either from the Maker Space or from home,” says Esme. “Marin’s prototype is really impressive,” she adds. “She’s even thinking about connecting a motor to it!”

As inspiration for their design thinking and initial prototypes, Long-View learners were visited by Aaron Foreman, CEO of Blue Sky Orthotic and Prosthetics, along with Jamie Martin, a paraplegic who has benefited from the cutting edge technology Aaron’s company has designed and produced.  Not only did the learners hear from Aaron about the progression of technology over the years, but also about sports prosthetics (Cheetah and Flex-Run by Ossur) and microprocessor controlled prostheses/knees like the C-leg from Otto Bock and vacuum sockets.  “One goal was for the learners to consider forces and interactions that come into play with a challenge like this. We did a lot of exploration centered around tension, torque, and how simple machines work,” said science teacher, Kelly Winchester.

Learners also took a short walk up to the ReNeu Robotics Lab at the University of Texas’ Mechanical Engineering building.  There they met with Alfredo Serrato, a research associate and PhD student, and learned about their current work – designing a robotic exoskeleton for assisting with upper body movements of subjects with severe disabilities.  These two rich and authentic field studies influenced and impacted the learners’ design thinking tremendously. “It’s exciting to see them now approaching the concept in a variety of ways,” notes Mrs. Winchester.  “Some learners are tweaking their initial designs to include springs that better replicate actual joint articulation.  They are digging deeper and exploring the anatomical way joints in a hand function and are going beyond the initial goal set by trying to figure out how to design prosthesis that can rotate, close, and retract.”

While Indigo Banders have deepened their understanding and spent time learning from experts in their field, they will also be tying these threads of information together to communicate their findings and conclusions to share with others.  They will speak to the limitations of their prototypes, what they learned about bioengineering, and improvements they could make for the future.

Critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity, coupled with authentic research experiences to gain a deeper and clearer understanding about how something works, is commonplace here at Long-View.  Aiming to dream big and imagine the seemingly impossible is how our learners roll. Lookout world! These are the future scientists and they are primed to navigate unchartered territory in a whole new way!