BCS Advantage Magazine Spring 2016 - Page 14

CLARK the ‘Super Kitty’ S.T.E.M. Education Meets the Real World By Stacia Harris, Assistant Director of Communications On the day Clark was introduced to Mr. Todd’s students, there was an air of excitement in the classroom punctuated by lots of “oohs” and “aahs” and the cute factor was off the charts! But the students were quick to get down to business. They took a close look at Clark’s current wheelchair and had plenty of questions for his foster mom. As part of this engineering assignment, they needed to hear exactly what issues Clark was facing, so they could come up with effective solutions. “I was looking at how his feet were placed and how they were sliding off,” said sixth grader Hayli Owens, “and I was thinking that on wheelchairs for people they have cuffs for your feet. I was thinking we could put an extension like that on Clark’s cart.” C lark the “Super Kitty” is changing the way our students learn. His is an unusual tale of a chance encounter turning into a unique classroom project. Christopher Todd, a “Project Lead the Way” teacher at Cane Creek Middle School met Clark and his foster mom at a local pet store. One-year-old Clark is paralyzed and wheelchair bound, but he doesn’t let that slow him down. With a wry grin, Clark’s handler says he truly lives his life with “no limits”. “He doesn’t have any understanding whatsoever that he is supposed to be limited; that he’s supposed to be disabled,” says Clark’s loving foster mom Terry Grossman. During the chance encounter at the pet store, Ms. Grossman and Mr. Todd spent some time talking about the challenges Clark faced trying to use a wheelchair that did not fit him, which was prone to tipping over and the wheels would sometimes rub his tail. Mr. Todd, an engineer by trade, knew an educational opportunity when he saw one! He knew he could guide his students into figuring out a way to improve Clark’s mobility and quality of life, while using many of the manufacturing principles the students had been studying. “I have a whole class of children learning about engineering. This would be a great tie-in with that,” he said. Ms. Grossman was open to the idea of introducing Clark to Mr. Todd’s class and seeing if they could put their math and engineering skills to good use- to help an animal in need. “What engineers do is solve problems, and this is a problem that is very tangible,” says Mr. Todd. 13 “What engineers do is solve problems, and this is a problem that is very tangible.” This would be one of many ideas the students came up with to build a better wheelchair for Clark. The next day students came to class ready to brainstorm more ideas. They suggested different wheels and side bars for better support and using material like aluminum or carbon fiber, which would be light, but strong. Their enthusiasm was the fuel that kept them focused and helped them apply what they had been learning in class to this real-world problem. “The coolest part about this project is we get to, as kids and not anywhere close to being professionals, make this [wheelchair] for him,” said Owens. In the following weeks and under the watchful eye of Mr. Todd, the students decided on a design and were ready to start building a prototype. The concept they chose is all terrain wheels and adjustable PVC pipe. It is lightweight and can extend as Clark continues to grow. Sixth grader Sutton Walker was a little intimidated in the early stages of this project, “but since we’ve made it this far, it feels like a big accomplishment,” she said. The PVC prototype is just the first draft of the wheelchair. The students will see how it fits Clark now and then