Monday, May 26, 2014

LASD STEM Connects with Engineers

What does a closed box with only two small openings have to do with surgery?  A group of 10 engineers from Intuitive Surgical, located in Sunnyvale, came to LASD and presented at each of the elementary schools, speaking to our 6th graders about what they do and how it’s related to what the students learn in STEM.  Intuitive Surgical introduced the first daVinci robotic Surgical System in 1999 and are the pioneers in robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery.  

During the presentations the 6th grade students of LASD participated in a hands-on activity where they were asked to figure out how to get objects out of a box without their hands and only using a handmade tool.  The boxes were closed except for a small hole on each side of the box.  The students used pipe cleaners, created tools out of popsicle sticks, chopsticks, tape and other items supplied to create their instruments.  It was challenging enough to pull the objects out, but they also could not move, shake or pick up the box.  As they worked together it was interesting to experience the creative and innovative thinking flowing from the minds of the students at work as they attempted to get the items out.  Some of the interesting tools they came up with could give an engineer a start on something big! All students were successful in pulling the objects out of the box, discussion followed to probe into how the students came up with their prototype designs.

Well, how does this activity relate to surgery?  The students found out…

The engineers connected the activity the students performed to the challenges surgeons face everyday during minimally invasive surgery.  The precursor to the activity demonstrated open surgery.  They had a student volunteer come up and unwrap a gift quickly and then had them try to put it back together neatly with tape.  They all discovered it did not look the same as how the box was originally wrapped.  It was discussed that open surgery is easier and faster, but it’s harder for the patient to recover and there is also scarring.  

The importance of the human factors element of the engineer’s job was pointed out when creating a system as well as instruments that will be used to operate with the surgical robot.  They need it to provide the best care for the patient as well as being precise and ergonomic for the doctor.  These are important factors when they start to design.  Engineers talked about the design process and how they solve problems.  The students heard about the many iterations of prototypes the engineers create and the extensive testing that needs to be done through each stage of the process.

The daVinci Xi
The engineers also discussed the different positions within the organization and how they all work together to develop and market a product. The engineer presenters included mechanical design engineers, clinical engineers, as well as human factors and technical marketing engineers.  The students were fascinated with holding some of the actual surgical instruments and enjoyed viewing a short video about the latest daVinci robotic system, the daVinci Xi.  They had very good questions for the engineers.   

The students can now see and connect why design thinking and design challenges are used in the classroom.  These are some of the same processes that are used in a high-tech industry; therefore, it provides relevant meaning to students when these strategies are used to solve a problem.

It was very exciting to see how inspirational these speakers were for the students.  One student went up to one of engineers after their presentation and told him that she wanted to be a surgeon and hoped someday she will be able to use the da Vinci when performing surgery.  As we all smiled with her I thought to myself, I have no doubt that this experience helped to solidify her goal, because she was able to connect what she does in class today with what she dreams of doing in her career!

Contributed by Karen Wilson, STEM Coach

1 comment:

  1. Sounds fabulous. Inspiring kids to learn more about science and engineering.