At Nueva, when students see a problem or a need, they invent a solution. Now in its second year, Invention Studio began as an outgrowth of I-Lab teacher Connie Liu's Design Engineering for Social Good course. It allows students to use design thinking and engineering skills to create empathy-based solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing our society today. Invention Studio is Nueva pedagogy at its best — student-centered learning that gives students the opportunity to use both design thinking and social-emotional learning skills in a real-life setting, to solve real-world issues.
One team's invention, the Stria, a belt for visually impaired individuals to wear to help them walk in a straight line, recently received the Grace Hopper Incubator Prize at the 2018 Inventor's Challenge and a grant of $1,000 from Imagination.org and AT&T. The competition brought together curious and creative young minds from 184 cities around the world, inviting them to create solutions that address issues in their communities. Out of over 248 entries, Nueva's Stria team earned the top prize for their invention with the powerful potential for good.
“This product started when we went on a needs-finding trip with a person who became blind in a car accident. Through our discussion with him," said tenth grader Justin Z., "we learned that blindness is an important issue, but we wanted to focus on one element of blindness that is especially difficult, and identified that problem as veering. Jimmy, our user, had to take really long routes to get to the other side of the street, which was very ineffective for him in terms of transportation.”
The belt that the Stria team has developed uses an inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor that detects when a person is changing their angle. If a visually impaired person is walking and starts to change direction, the belt will activate a vibration and alert the user to turn right or left. If the vibration motor vibrates on the user’s left side, for example, that means the person is veering right and needs to turn left.
“We talked to many blind people about their lives, what it’s like to be blind, the challenges they face, and current solutions to some of their problems," tenth-grader Maddie P. said. "This was an incredibly powerful experience as people that I had never met before opened up to me and were so gracious in sharing their stories, their hopes, and their fears. Making face-to-face connections with people is what inspires me to continue working on our project.”
The Invention Studio has inspired the development of other products to address
social issues — portable homeless shelters, a handheld relaxation tool to relieve anxiety, affordable prosthetics for shelter dogs, and an app for college women to stay safe on campus. “At the end of last year, there was so much interest from students in Design Engineering for Social Good class and how students could use the skills they were learning to impact the community," I-Lab teacher Connie said. "We found that working on Invention Studio allowed students to invest more of their identities and selves into the program.”
Tenth graders Katya P. and Morgan T. are working with twelfth-grader Emma D. on a handheld relaxation device called Unwind to relieve stress and anxiety. There are three parts to the product: a vibration motor that vibrates in a steady, calming heartbeat; an LED component that helps the user with their breathing; and an accelerometer to make the product user-friendly.
“In comparison to a lot of other meditation products, this is a physical object, not an app," Emma said. "And in comparison to other fidget toys, this is a lot quieter and less distracting in a classroom setting.”
Students involved with Invention Studio shared how satisfying it is for them to do a deep dive into developing a product that has the potential to help huge numbers of people. “This program is an opportunity to take the projects we started in Design Engineering for Social Good and extend them, take multiple years, and really create a project that we can see helping people," Pranav R., a tenth grader on the Stria team, said.
"I've always wanted to do something big to help make the world a better place," Maddie said. "It's hard to make a big difference in just a few months, but what we've been able to do with the Stria is save this person's life." To learn more about the Stria and the work of students in the Invention Studio, watch this video.
By Lily Brown, Upper School English Teacher
April 4, 2018