Winning essays and inventing assistive technologies, just another day for these Akron students

St. Vincent de Paul Parish School stands out. Located in Akron, Ohio, St. Vincent is one of the first STEM designated Catholic schools in the our network with STEM implementation from elementary on up. The school just achieved two successes. One, completing an outstanding project-based learning partnership. Two, winning the middle school level of the Ohio STEM Learning Network essay contest.

Last Friday morning, we stopped by the school for a presentation of learning by the 2nd-5th grades. Through a partnership with Hattie Larlham, a nonprofit organization that assists adults with learning and developmental disabilities, students were challenged to solve real world problems.

student designers“Hattie Larlham came in and charged our 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders with developing inventions to help them do their chores,” explained Principal Maria Meeker.

Students had to design an easy way for people in wheelchairs to feed cats, clean tables, and mop floors.

Adrianna Ramos and Erica King tackled that last problem with their invention: “The Masterpiece.”

Erica explained, “People at Hattie Larlham have a smaller grip, or use their hands to operate their wheelchair. So we needed something we could clip onto the chair.”

Luckily, participants in Hattie Larlham’s Constant Companion program were on hand to try out the contraptions. Seeing one participant, Brandi, attach the mop to her wheelchair, was a lightbulb moment for Adrianna.

Hattie Larlham participant

“Her face was so gloomy before, and then we put it on and she was going around in her wheelchair, and it worked. She got so happy and it made me feel so proud.”

Tristina Eck, a representative from Hattie Larlham, expressed her gratitude after they saw all of the solutions.

“‘Look! I did it!’ I heard that a lot today from Brandi who was trying out a lot of those things. “Look! I mopped the floor. Look! I cleaned the table. Look! I fed the cats.’ That’s very, very special to hear.”

“I can’t wait to go back, take these items back, and hear those words again and again every day.”

At St. Vincent, STEM doesn’t stop at 5th grade. We dropped by to visit Teresa Chicatelli and the 7th grade class.

The whole class wrote about their experienteresace building Free Little Libraries, tiny wooden houses that act as a community book exchange. Read all about it in Teresa’s essay below.

While making our Little Free Library, we encountered many obstacles to success. We tried our best to fix problems and learn from our mistakes. Three of the hardest things that we had to overcome during the build were losing a team member, incorrect math calculations, and properly installed hinges.

Our first dilemma was losing one member of our group. We had to try to replicate her art for the back. This became even harder when we lost the original copy and had to go from memory. It was a very detailed drawing.

Bad math was the next obstacle. When we went to Home Depot for our supplies, we didn’t know how much wood we needed. We had not calculated the size of the library correctly.  We noticed we wouldn’t have enough wood to finish the library. We had to refer back to our scale drawing and realized we had added wrong and we estimated accordingly.

The hardest part was the door. The hinges were the most difficult part of the door. We quickly figured out that the door would work better if it swung up from the bottom instead of from the side. We cut two notches out of the door frame’s top and put the hinges there instead.

These difficulties helped me learn during the build. I wouldn’t have been able to use critical thinking during the construction. It would’ve been mindless labor. The quote ‘Problems are an engineer’s inspiration’ hangs in the engineering lab at SVDP, and it applies to the Little Free Libraries. The problems we faced on the libraries made them better, and they made us better students.

That’s just a few of the exciting projects at St. Vincent in Akron. Welcome to the Ohio STEM Learning Netowrk family. We look forward to more great work in the coming years.

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