Learning by doing

Lyncon Saunders and Kimberly Smith check out knee replacements during an engineering presentation by Depuy.

PIERCETON — Students from Pierceton Elementary School met with Mike Jones and Brian Maroney of Depuy Synthes earlier this month.

Jones and Maroney are engineers with nearly 40 patents combined across their careers. Together, they spent time presenting about their current vocations and then engaged the 6th-grade students in both Anne Clark’s and Dana Clutter’s classrooms through an activity designed to help them problem-solve — building a robotic hand.

Students were given cups, straws, string, scissors and tape — as well as some simple directions — to assist them throughout the exercise. Their task was to assemble a working prototype of a hand that could successfully pick up a ping-pong ball for five seconds.

Working hands-on with the students in addition to Depuy’s representatives were many leading members of the Whitko community, including school board member Georgia Tenney, Superintendent Brandon Penrod and Principal Michele Smith.

“A challenge of teaching this type of lesson is that sometimes students give up when they aren’t successful right away, Clutter said. “This type of learning teaches kids that failure is okay and in fact, beneficial to their learning. Perseverance will pay off. Partnerships with Mike and Brian are so important because students can see that their interests and passions not only lead to a career choice but most importantly, can lead to making positive changes in our world.”

Curiosity is a word used by Jones to describe someone who may go into the field of engineering. He shared with the classes that as a young child, his curiosity led him to take apart his toys, and even his bicycle, to see how something might work. He and Maroney felt they were very similar in this respect, and according to Maroney, it’s this curiosity that has helped them to “have a knack” for the job.

Pierceton Elementary’s Anne Clark mirrors this approach in the classroom saying, “We are working hard to foster mindsets of problem-solving, perseverance and possibility.”

Pierceton students frequently enjoy a weekly activity called, “Genius Hour,” allowing them an opportunity for innovation and creativity. During the Genius Hour, children are allowed to pick an activity or project they wish to research; then they get an opportunity to discover and present their findings to peers. Other similar opportunity include Project Lead the Way, which is led by instructor Ashley Roberts. Most recently at South Whitley Elementary, kindergarten teachers Vicki Sprunger and Krista Busz will introduce a rabbit habitat.

“It is our hope that the entire school gets to enjoy this space. It was created to teach kindergartners to observe animal patterns, how to take care of a space and animals, and to learn about what living things (plants and animals) need to survive,” Roberts said. “The idea for a rabbit habitat came about when the kindergarten teachers and I discussed different ways we could use the courtyard and have the students become more involved with nature.”

Similar to the Project Lead the Way, the exercises students are performing with Depuy Synthes will require them to combine innovation, creativity and problem-solving. Teachers actively encouraged students to make mistakes throughout the lesson. Making mistakes is part of a process used to locate weaknesses within their own concepts. As students put their prototype into a testing phase, Jones and Maroney taught students how to locate potential failures and identify solutions that would lead to desired outcomes.

Recalling the events, Clark shared, “I think it is awesome that PES students have the chance to learn first-hand about the amazing things that our local orthopedics industry is doing globally. My hope is that our students can see that there are future opportunities for them right here in northern Indiana!”

Sixth-graders at PES will continue to connect with Jones and Maroney throughout the school year and will culminate their shared experience together in the spring of 2020 with a field trip to Depuy.

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