STUDENT CREATIONS TEACH THE DISABLED
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Josh Duncan, left, and Zachary Mossman work on a dancing doll as part of the Invention Factory, a program that challenges student inventors to create toys that will address a particular child's disability. Invention Factory was started by the University of Hawaii at Manoa Curriculum Research & Development Group.
Future engineers experience the joy of solving problems
A toy car whizzes past 15-year-old Leo Dalbert as he blows into a pinwheel propeller that pushes the car along.
Check them out
If you would like to see some of the Invention Factory's products, it will have a booth at the Tools for Life Expo at the Hawai'i Convention Center Friday and Saturday. The expo runs from noon to 6 p.m. on Friday and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free.
Although it seems Dalbert is just playing around, the toy car is actually teaching him about science, math and engineering -- and about the rewards of helping others.
Dalbert is part of a University of Hawaii at Manoa pilot project called the Invention Factory. The car that Dalbert designed and built will be given to an autistic boy.
"Students can let their imaginations run wild while helping those in need," project manager Sandy Gabrielli said.
Each student is assigned to create devices that will assist a client with a disability. Dalbert was told his client needs to be motivated to blow on things.
"It's always great to help people, but it's even better to make them happy," Dalbert said.
Both he and his father participate in the program.
Leo applies his interest in technology at home, too, said his father, Thomas Dalbert. His son already made a security alarm system for his bedroom and a sound device to attract fish.
Students have produced plenty of ingenious products at the Invention Factory. An electric piano that is played by aiming a laser pointer at the keys and a toy dog that flips are a few of the toys created by Janine Codera of Kalakaua Middle School. The electric piano is for a girl paralyzed from the neck down who can play it using a laser fixed to a headband.
"This will allow her to exercise her neck and enjoy music at the same time," Codera said.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Thomas Ursal, left, and Lancen Crisostomo work on a mobile with project manager Sandy Gabrielli of the Invention Factory. The pilot project has produced such unique items as a piano played with a laser pointer, and a dancing teapot. It hopes to expand to include native Hawaiians, women, "at risk" students and others underrepresented in science and engineering.
Waipahu Intermediate student May Rose Lazarte modified a toy teapot for a child with autism, which soon became his favorite toy.
A microcomputer in the toy causes the teapot to dance when the child turns on a switch. The teapot was designed to teach cause and effect and encourage the child to communicate more effectively with his teacher.
"He just loves that toy and takes it home every weekend," said speech pathologist Carolyne Kasprzak, who requested the toy from the Invention Factory.
Most of the toys the students build are donated to the Assistive Technology Resource Centers of Hawaii. People are able to borrow the equipment through online orders as an alternative to purchasing products from the mainland.
"Products like these would normally cost hundreds of dollars," Kasprzak said. "It's great to have this free access."
Gabrielli, co-investigator Neil Scott and a team of college students offer the Invention Factory program at six locations: Honolulu Community College, Dole Intermediate School, Farrington High School, Kalakaua Intermediate School, Roosevelt High School and Waipahu Intermediate School.
After receiving a $900,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation last year, the Invention Factory hopes to expand the project from its current 150 students to 400 intermediate and high school students over the next three years.
The program, spearheaded by the Curriculum Research & Development Group at the UH College of Education, also wants to reach students underrepresented in science and engineering, including native Hawaiians, women and "at risk" students.
They hope to distribute student tool kits that include a soldering iron, laboratory clamps and goggles to other science programs -- and possibly open more Invention Factories nationwide.
There is even international interest in the project. A New Zealand schoolteacher has requested 100 tool kits.