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Hillsboro students get hands-on with science

Staff writer

The typical science program sets a base of bookwork in the early years, but at Hillsboro school district, that system is several years past its expiration date.

Once she began working with national nonprofit Project Lead the Way five years ago, she didn’t want to go back to a standard curriculum, said teacher Darlene Bartel, the eighth grade science teacher at Hillsboro school district.

“This has changed the way I teach,” she said. “I don’t want to go back to the other way, project/problem-based is the way to go.”

The Hillsboro district is in its fifth year with PLTW, and all grades now participate.

There are several types of projects, but Bartel chose one that applies engineering principals to real-world problems. For the second year in a row, Bartel’s students created a special boot for cerebral palsy patients called a foot orthosis.

CP is a neurological disorder that inhibits motor skills and muscle tone, along with other effects.

“They don’t have to become experts on cerebral palsy,” Bartel said. “Where a traditional science program would say we learn about cerebral palsy, they learn more about how to help people who have walking issues.”

There are seven criteria established by PLTW for the boot, including stability, functionality, and comfort. She added an attractiveness category because patients won’t want an ugly foot brace, Bartel said.

An advantage of PLTW is that it’s very open-ended, she said. Students aren’t told how to make the boot or what materials to use, and they have to research cerebral palsy themselves.

In the case of D’myia Cox’s group, how the boot looked was their number one priority. They decorated it with references to Monsters Inc., including cutouts of two main characters, and put foil underneath to create contrast, D’myia said.

“We didn’t come up with the shiny part until Mrs. Bartel said, ‘You should make it shiny so the characters stick out,’” she said. “Aesthetics were a big deal.”

The project is made more difficult since students have to make use of the items available. Bartel collects supplies like cardboard, Velcro, foil, and two-liter bottles for group members to piece together into a cohesive design.

“They learn how to be resourceful, to use the resources we have,” she said. “That’s why we say we’re only making a prototype.”

PLTW is important because it forces students to respond to failure, Bartel said.

“It isn’t really about the boot,” she said. “It’s about how to create and solve problems.”

The project works because it allows students to do science in a less stereotypical, more hands-on environment, eighth grader Katie Rempel said.

“It’s more fun doing it here because we actually get to experience it,” she said. “It’s like hey, it’s actually kind of fun.”

The project wrapped up Jan. 14, when Katie’s group, as well as D’myia’s, presented their prototypes at the Hillsboro school board meeting.

Both groups changed designs at least once, which led to new struggles.

“Two minutes before we presented it, it broke, so we had to cover it in tape and some pieces were falling off,” D’myia said. “If we had to go back, we would definitely hot-glue everything before we tried to put it on my foot.”

The prototype was a different type of project because it couldn’t succeed without all group members chipping in, Katie said.

“Everyone had to have an idea,” she said. “We couldn’t just have one person coming up all the ideas because that was too much to do.”

Last modified Jan. 24, 2019

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