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Spring SAVY 2015, Week 1 – Medical Solutions (3rd/4th Grade, Ms. Bowler)

Posted by on Monday, February 9, 2015 in SAVY blog.

Medical Solutions is off to a great start! As we shared the strangest chimera we could imagine as we learned each other’s names – I could already tell that we have a creative group! To put our goals in a larger context, we first explored the Cleveland Clinic’s Top 10 Innovations for 2015. We had time to learn about a leadless cardiac pacemaker and antibody-drug conjugates, but if students would like to look into the rest, they can visit the website [http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2014/10/top-10-medical-innovations-for-2015/#mg]. We discussed the many different kinds of people who might contribute to these innovations (e.g. engineers, scientists, doctors, patients, anyone with a creative idea) and how we are going to be innovators throughout the course – designing solutions to a variety of medical challenges.

Students brainstormed the various tools we have at our disposal as problem-solvers and we compared strategies for using these tools, namely the scientific and engineering methods. We began to compare and contrast these methods, noting that the scientific method is used for observing and understanding something unknown and the engineering method is used to design or build something to solve a problem.

Each week, we will attack a challenge associated with a different disease while focusing on various parts of the scientific and engineering methods. This Saturday, students learned the pathology involved in Parkinson’s Disease. As neurons in the substantia nigra die, they cannot produce enough dopamine, a neurotransmitter, and subsequently, motor skills (as well as memory and personality) are impaired. Treatments include drugs that replace dopamine or inhibit enzymes responsible for its break-down, deep brain stimulation, and stem cell therapy. Students imagined many of these therapeutic strategies (plus gene therapy) independently, which was exciting! The challenge we tackled was how to make it easier for Parkinson’s patients to eat (they have hand tremors making it difficult to control an eating utensil). Ideas included building an attachment that would allow the patient to use his or her whole arm instead of relying on fine motor skills, and asking a friend for help. We wanted to focus on testing and evaluating prototypes this week, so I had created prototypes of spoons with different length handles for us to test. We had time for everyone to test one spoon type by moving cheerios out of a bowl while simulating hand tremors. Next week, we will analyze our data to decide which prototype we would continue improving upon. We will also learn about heart diseases and stress the importance of appropriate models. Our challenge will involve building a model of a heart that is useful for testing a variety of diagnostic and therapeutic devices.

Questions to think about over the week are:

1) Why is it important to keep a record of our experiments?

2) How do you use the scientific method every day?

By the end of our six weeks together, I would like every student to be able to:

1) Understand similarities and differences between the scientific method and the engineering design process, and know when each should be used.

2) Be able to justify design choices with advanced knowledge of pathology.

3) Understand the cutting-edge technologies currently in use to combat major Western diseases and identify their limitations.

This is an enthusiastic (during a break, they shared a resource that had taught a couple of them about animal models: scishow on youtube.com) and creative cohort of students and I am delighted to be teaching them!

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