News

STEM Students Advance to National Competition

In ODA’s first Technology Student Association (TSA) State Competition, sophomores Kaylen Rivers ‘21 and Reece Whatmore ‘21 created an interactive, tactile, assistive technology storybook for students with physical and intellectual impairment. Their second place finish in the category advances them to the National Competition in June.
TSA members Kaylen Rivers ‘21 and Reece Whatmore ‘21 entered several categories in this year’s state competition, including Debating Technological Issues, Extemporaneous Speech, Essays in Technology, and Children’s Storybook. It was in the latter category where the two sophomores made their biggest impression.

Kaylen and Reece began working on their storybook more than six months before the conference. Criteria for the category included a book for children with physical and/or intellectual impairment on a scientific concept or idea. They decided on the ‘cell’ as their topic, and began researching the best way to present complicated information in a conceptually and physically accessible manner.

In adherence with the competition guidelines, the students created everything in their book themselves. From the storyline, illustrations, and layout, to laminating and binding the pages – every part of the book had to be completely original. Every spread of their book “A Trip to Cell City,” features original illustrations and the text of the story. Each left-facing page has a removable felt cut-out representing the part of the cell being discussed to stimulate and encourage tactile response. All text is translated into Braille for sight-impaired children and every right-facing page has a button that, when pressed, plays an audio recording of Kaylen reading the page’s text.

To make the science conceptually accessible, the students wrote their story within the framework of the cell being a cityscape. Each part of the cell represents a different and essential part of a city that is needed to keep everything running smoothly. As readers “tour” the city, they learn about the purpose of each area, and how they all work together.

In preparation for the competition, Reece reached out to Oak Park School in Sarasota and arranged to read “A Trip to Cell City” to classes in the Developmental Assistive Technology wing. Students in the program have severe and profound intellectual disabilities and receive augmentative and assistive technology for communication in order to access their curriculum. After each reading, the ODA students asked for feedback from the children. They shared what they liked and disliked, and what changes they thought would be important to make the book more successful. The sophomores found their input extremely valuable and put it to good use in honing the details of the book.

Kaylen and Reece had an impressive showing at the TSA State Conference, the first that ODA has participated in. After competing in four events, the sophomores moved on to the semifinals in Debating Technological Issues, and Children's Storybook. The pair finished sixth in the debating challenge, and second with their storybook. Their second-place finish has moved them on to the next level of competition. The two students, accompanied by mentor Ms. Theresa Beeman, will compete in the TSA National Teams Competition in Washington, D.C. this June. Congratulations to these ambitious students on an outstanding project, utilizing local resources to make an impact and improve their submission, and an impressive finish in our inaugural participation with TSA.
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