I’m not sure how to get my first ever blog started, but introductions are typically what takes place when meeting new people, so I’ll start there. My name is Paul Tramel and I’m an 8th grade American History teacher. I’m sharing the story of Ryan Wideman’s STEAM: 101 class at Ridgewood Middle School in Arnold, MO. Ryan doesn’t “internet” so I’m taking the role of storyteller for the purposes of the blog. This will be a bit long as it covers the course of two years, so have a seat and maybe grab a cup of coffee.

The sea was angry that day, my friends…no, wait..that’s a different story 🙂 Ryan typically teaches 8th grade Science but at the end of the school year in 2014, our principal came to him asking if he’d like to teach a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) class as an elective for the ’14-’15 school year. The caveat being that she wouldn’t be providing him with any financial resources or curriculum. As daunting as that would be for me, Ryan took a glass half full approach and seized the opportunity to be free from any curricular restraints. Money would be an issue but Ryan started working immediately to find something he could do for this class. At his old school he had students build go carts but that probably wasn’t feasible with no budget. The rest of that school year Ryan began brainstorming different ideas. We talked several times about different possibilities but I didn’t offer much inspiration. He really wanted the class to be a service learning opportunity in addition to being educational. He came to me one day talking about how Ridgewood used to house students with physical disabilities and he wondered if there was a way to do something for that student population. With them no longer being there however, he thought about some of the other special education students still at Ridgewood. There is a self contained classroom that has students that did have students that could benefit from assorted modifications.

Ryan began searching the internet to see if anybody was already doing something similar. Down the rabbit hole he went where his search led him to Adaptive Design. He looked around the website for a bit and just from observing the Tippy Stool, he thought, “I can make that.” Now, if you’re like me, I look at the picture of the Tippy Stool and it may as well be the Great Pyramid of Giza. Ryan, however, has an art design background and one of those minds that is full of spatial ability; he didn’t even flinch. Also, he now had his medium: cardboard. Being at a school, cardboard was easily accessible and more importantly, free. He already had some glue and rulers and bringing a couple power tools from home his needs for the class were complete. After some more time thinking about the class, he decided that art was going to be a large part of the class; specifically in the design process. So, he added the “A” to STEM and created STEAM: 101. The only thing left to do was find out what was needed.

After discussing with the teacher of the self contained classroom, Kelley Earickson, Ryan had his first order. For her class he would be making two reading easels, four Tippy Stools and a set of cubbies/lockers for the students as they have trouble opening the regular lockers. Cardboard was collected from the cafeteria, office and students and teachers brought boxes from home to create a giant stack in the back of his room. Students were placed in design teams where they create multiple rough drafts and a final hand drawn rendering of their project with front, top, and side views. Though not scaled, due to a lack of appropriate technology, any precise measurements taken were added to the final drawing. After the designs get final approval from Ryan, they can begin the construction process. At this stage he hadn’t actually built anything  with cardboard before, so he had the students glue 12 layers of single layer corrugated cardboard to achieve the thickness he wanted for the projects. Whether this would work or not was still to be determined. Here’s what they created the first semester:

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In an effort to remain concise, as I could easily turn this into a novel, Ryan greatly expanded the class after this first semester. He contacted Amy Nicholas, one of the physical therapists in our district, and asked if there were any devices she might be able to use. While understandably skeptical at first, she took a leap of faith and decided to meet with Ryan and see what they could come up with. She had some ideas for some assistive devices but could a group of 8th graders really make anything functional? And out of cardboard? Suffice it to say that they’ve done that and more. With over 20 functioning devices to date, STEAM: 101 is an assistive device factory. Cardboard is now donated in 8’x8′ sheets from a local company that would otherwise be recycling it. Glue is purchased using money from a grant Ryan wrote. Other than that, there are zero costs.

In addition to making the devices, this past fall Ryan entered his class into the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest for a chance to win $120,000 in Samsung technology. This is kind of where I enter in the story. My conference hour is the same period as STEAM: 101 and part of the contest was to create a 3 minute video, no more, explaining the class. Since he was busy actually teaching the class, he needed a little help organizing the video and filming some things. The video does a pretty good job laying out the process of the class so rather than type everything out I’ll just let you watch. Here’s what we created:

In order to get to the video part of the contest you had to win your state. Winning your state would net you $20,000 in Samsung Technology…which we won. There were then 51 finalists (one from each state and Washington D.C.). From the 51 state winners, 15 National Finalists were chosen and would win an additional $20,000 in Samsung technology. We made top 15. From there we would have to take two students to New York City to Samsung’s new state of the art Samsung 837 building where we would have to give a “Shark Tank” style presentation called the Pitch Event. Feel free to watch the entire event as there were some amazing projects we were up against, but the video should pick up at our presentation given solely by our students:

After the Pitch Event, five winners would be named totaling an additional $80,000 in Samsung technology. Three winners would be selected by the judges at the Pitch Event, one by Samsung employees and one community choice during a month long voting session on Twitter and Instagram. We were selected as one of the three judge’s choice winners and won a total of $120,000 in Samsung technology. Unbelievable.

Ryan has been wanting to contact Adaptive Design for some time now, but as you can see he’s been a bit busy. We contacted Talya and she asked us to share the story here on the the blog. Now that the contest is over he’s looking to do some networking and connect with other people who are doing similar things. I’m not sure if we’ll ever meet the needs of our school district and community, but in the event we do, we want to be in contact with others who know of those in need. He’s still ironing out kinks in the process and coming up with unique ways so we’d love to hear from anyone else doing this. Any way we can make these devices better we’re all ears so by all means contact us. I’ll leave you with the pictures from the video so you can look at them a little easier.

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