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South Valley Journal

Students put their best (prosthetic) foot forward

Jan 27, 2022 01:14PM ● By Jet Burnham

Ninth grader Jack Meier tests the fit and gives feedback on Xander James’ socket design. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

More than earning a grade, students in Oquirrh Hills Middle School’s Exploring Technology class wanted to impress Jack.

Their assignment was to design a prosthetic leg using materials found at home and in the school’s woodshop. And Jack Meier, a ninth grader who uses a prosthetic leg, would evaluate their design and help determine their grade.

Carly Stirland said her students are willing to spend extra time on the project because it has a real life application; they know the end user. 

“They wanted it to be the best for someone who was really going to wear it,” she said. “It's a real life thing. We don't do that enough at school—give them real world problems and have them try to solve them.”

Because Jack has used a prosthetic leg his whole life, he has strong opinions about what makes a good design. He was happy to drop by the classroom several times throughout the design process to try on students’ designs, which is a normal part of the process when he gets a new prosthesis. He gave his peers feedback—the socket is too big, the knee hinge overextends, it needs more padding, it’s too heavy. He and Stirland evaluated each design for comfort, stability, aesthetics and usability.

Students appealed to Jack’s love of BYU by painting their prosthetics blue and white. One team etched the BYU team logo on their prosthetic with woodburning tools. But ultimately, Jack’s most important criteria must be met for the design to earn a good grade.

“I think a good design is it has to be comfortable,” Jack said.

Stirland was impressed with the ideas students developed for padding and joint hinges. She said the assignment was a good exercise in the engineering design process: teamwork, communication, brainstorming, problem-solving and learning from mistakes.

“It was so fun to see them try new things and fail and try it again because that's what engineering is all about,” she said.

Eighth graders Justin Knobel and Wyatt Atkinson said it was a lot of trial and error. Their first foot piece broke during testing and they had to cut another. They over-tightened the screws at the ankle joint which cracked the wood.

Zack Hall said sanding the wood was the most difficult part of the project, but his teammate Xander James said the biggest challenge was designing the hinges. They opted to make a knee and ankle joint even though the assignment only required one working joint. They twisted ten rubber bands and connected it to eye screws on each side of the joint but found it wasn’t very durable.

“We had to replace it multiple times,” Xander said.

Stirland used to assign a prosthetic hand project but when Jack was in eighth grade, she thought his peers would respond better to a real life application and changed it to a leg prosthetic. She said this motivates them to stay engaged during the whole process, which lasted about three weeks.

The Exploring Technology class introduces students to a variety of interests. Other assignments in the class, which is an elective for eighth graders, are building bridges, programming a computer animation, and woodworking projects.

Stirland said the prosthetic project is the students’ favorite. One student told her it was the coolest project he’d ever done in school and that he’d never forget it.

It is one of her favorite lessons, as well.

“There are very few moments of teaching where everyone is so involved and so busy and excited that I get to just observe,” she said. “This is one of those moments.”