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Education by Design

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High school students take a hands-on approach to learning through Project Lead the Way

By Stephen Lega

Craig O'Daniel has gained a new perspective on the world because of his participation in Project Lead the Way, a program designed to encourage students with an interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

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"I learned a lot about the design process, and how to look at everyday objects and think of ways to make them better," O'Daniel said.

He was one of the eight Marion County High School students who recently completed the capstone project, which is considered the culmination of the program.

In O'Daniel's case, he used what he's learned during the past four years to create an adjustable rifle sight that he calls the E.Z. Mover. O'Daniel got the idea because he competes in shooting sports. In rifle competitions, participants shoot from prone, kneeling and standing positions, and different sights are required for each position. With the E.Z. Mover, a shooter could adjust the position of his or her sight depending on the shooting position.

Ginger Spalding, one of the Project Lead the Way instructors, said the program has been offered through the high school with classes at the Marion County Area Technology Center since 2008.

Spalding said the program is very hands-on, which engages the students and keeps them interested.

Student Dalton Mills said he's also gained a greater appreciation for the work that goes into creating products that people use on a daily basis.

"The people who come out of nowhere and invent this stuff, they are really special people," he said.

Mills, Taylor Brady and Josh Brockman worked together to create the K-wallet, which they envision as a compact way for people to carry their keys. The basic design is intended to mimic the Swiss Army knife, so keys would rest side-by-side and could rotate in and out depending on which one is needed. The final prototype was developed after multiple design changes.

"Our big thing was making it small enough to fit in a person's pocket comfortably and making it hold as many keys as possible," Mills said.

Although the prototype is white, Mills said if they made a final product it would likely be a fluorescent color so that it would be seen more easily in the dark.

Instructor Greg Conley said the capstone students were required to invent something new or come up with an innovation to an existing product. Students had to research to find out if a similar product already exists or is in the works. They also had to do some market research to find out if people would be interested in buying their products. That research included talking to fellow students and local businesses and even spending time in Wal-Mart conducting surveys.

Nic Courtwright and Bryan Gootee developed the Pencil Butt, a small pencil sharpener. Gootee said he got the idea when his pencil broke one day in class. The tech center was going through renovations when that happened, and the Project Lead the Way classes were being taught in a classroom without a pencil sharpener.

James Alford and Dustin Reid worked together on the E.Z. Open, which is intended to be an innovation on a garage door opener. The E.Z. Open works by automatically sending a signal to open the garage door as a vehicle approaches, rather than requiring the driver to push a button to make that happen.

They were able to design a working product, but Reid also knows they need to do more work in order to make the product marketable.

"We got it to open, but not close," he said.

All of the capstone students made presentations of their products to the program's advisory committee on March 29. The final prototypes, as well as the various design changes are now on display at the tech center. All eight capstone students are planning to pursue engineering degrees.

Today, all of the Project Lead the Way classes are full, and Conley and Spalding both anticipate a larger group of students will complete the capstone program next year.

"It should get better and bigger," Conley said.