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At Duke, Durham Middle School Students Apply Engineering Design Concepts to Real-Life Challenges
April 18, 2023 | Michaela Kane
Duke BME hosted the inaugural two-day Outreach Design Education Hackathon in a campus design lab
The Design Pod—a 5,000-square-foot design and learning lab at Duke—buzzed with activity. Whiteboards depicting different greenhouse and sprinkler designs were arranged along the back, and local students from Lowe’s Grove Middle School in Durham were listening to Aaron Kyle describe how they could use engineering concepts to bring their ideas to life.
These students were part of the inaugural class of Duke’s new Outreach Design Education program (ODE), an outreach program developed by Kyle, a Duke professor of the practice of biomedical engineering, to give younger students the practical design skills to both identify problems and develop solutions using basic engineering skills.
The Ode Hackathon is the first event to take place as part of the ODE program. Over two days, middle school students worked in Duke’s Design Pod to come up with different products that would help them care for a garden at their school. These ideas ranged from an overhanging sprinkler system to a portable canopy that could provide shade for more delicate plants.
The class, however, didn’t stop at just teaching students how to prototype and present their ideas; students also participated in breakout sessions, when they learned how to use basic microcontroller programming with an Arduino and practiced using tools in the design lab, like the laser cutter.
“There is a lot of literature about when students develop an engineering identity and persistence, and we’re seeing that middle school is a particularly critical time for minorities and young women,” Kyle said. “We want to work with these students at this formative stage, and we hope that these hackathons will be an entry point for younger students, giving them design opportunities in middle school that will help them form and maintain STEM identity.”