Sixth-graders brainstorm innovative technology for disabled population

Published 8:26 am Wednesday, November 7, 2018

From a discussion about a required reading book to potential technological innovations years down the line, students at Elizabethton City Schools are turning their classrooms into places of creativity, places to better their communities one idea at a time.

Marissa Henry teaches Language Arts to sixth and seventh-graders at T.A. Dugger Jr. High School, and after reading “Out of my Mind” to her students, she decided her students could get more up-close and personal with the subject matter.

“We used the book as a spring board,” Henry said.

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In the book, the main character struggles with cerebral palsy, and Henry said the students wished they could help her somehow.

Henry said she invited former principal Josh Wandell, who also has ALS, to speak to the class about the unique challenges in his life.

“Seeing him created a desire to help,” she said.

From there, Henry split the class into groups. Each group was charged with brainstorming and designing models of various devices or products disabled people could use to alleviate some of the challenges they experienced. They then had to present their ideas in a two-minute pitch akin to the TV show “Shark Tank.”

One group designed a slimmer wheelchair that let users navigate tighter corners they were not able to otherwise, while another designed a vending machine, called a “Medi-Machine,” that did not require any touch at all, instead using a retina scanner to obtain the important medication the user may need.

Henry said the focus of many of the ideas was both to enhance the communication and mobility of the user.

“I was blown away with all the different ideas,” she said. “They far exceeded my expectations.”

Henry said she hopes the students are inspired to revisit these ideas as they get older, to see how to make the ideas and models a reality.

“Anything else I do this year is going to be a letdown,” Henry said.

She said people she talked to were impressed with the confidence they presented when displaying their ideas.

“Even the shy kids were involved,” Henry said.

Henry said she hopes hands-on projects like this will not only encourage children to look for a positive future, but their parents as well.

“We talk about the younger generation being ‘ill-equipped’ for the future,” she said. “If you think that, come and talk to my kids. You will have more confidence in the future. These kids can go and be leaders when they grow up.”