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Carthage students compete in 'Shark Tank' competition for therapy toy prototype

Joplin Globe - 4/20/2019

April 20-- Apr. 20--CARTHAGE, Mo. -- Sixth grade students at the Carthage Intermediate Center acted as entrepreneurs Wednesday, competing in their own version of television's "Shark Tank" in an effort to win over the judges with their therapy toys designed for children with cerebral palsy.

Approximately 400 sixth graders created 100 therapy toy prototypes for young students living with different forms of cerebral palsy. Divided into groups, the pupils were given a client card describing a child with cerebral palsy and the issues that child faces on a daily basis. The youngsters were given about two weeks to create an original toy design that could benefit the client in therapy.

"The students are given a creative project that is meaningful and has results that can be measured," said Heather Woodall, sixth grade science teacher. "Many of our students know someone or have had class with someone that has a form of cerebral palsy. Projects like our 'Toy Design Challenge' help the things that we teach in class to be meaningful and important to our kids."

The project materials were provided by the instructors, including anything from paperclips, string, rubber bands to various recyclable items. The toys, which were on display in the school hallway for about a week, were judged anonymously by adults, with the top four designs with the highest average scores proceeding to the final round -- "Shark Tank."

Only four groups advanced to the tank, where they pitched their proposals to a panel of judges who tested out the toys, asked questions and offered feedback, similar to the format of the business-reality TV show.

"We want to make it more competitive, and the kids are more invested when there's something like this on the line," said Ashley Patterson, sixth grade science teacher.

The toys were called Animal Trivia, Sound Box, Shapes and Toy n' No Tantrum.

When it came time to choose the winner, the judges were torn between two prototypes, but ultimately tabbed Sound Box as the winner. Toy n' No Tantrum came in a close second.

Inside the 'Shark Tank'

This year, the teachers took the second "Shark Tank" event to a new level, Woodall said. The front wall of the room was transformed into an ocean with a blue backdrop covered in sharks, giving the students the illusionary shark tank effect. Two wood desks faced the front, where four judges, called sharks, listened to the students' projects and ultimately decided whether they would fund their ideas.

The judges were Mandy Brown, physical therapist assistant for the Carthage R-9 School District; Lindsay Mikhail, Carthage Junior High Project Lead the Way teacher; Catherine Eck, director of information technology for the district; and Missael Maturino, Intermediate Center translator.

As the 16 students entered the tank, the tension in the room was palpable. The youngsters looked around at each other anxiously but made their presentations.

The Animal Trivia group created a one- to two-player trivia game for its client, Lilly. She has dyskinetic cerebral palsy, which affects the movement of her arms, legs and hands. The students decided to focus on strengthening the upper body and created a trivia game centered on animals. The players read the clues written on each cup and try to guess what animals are inside to receive a token. The one with the most tokens by the end of the game wins.

"Our toy will help Lilly by making her think and making her do a little physical activity with her arms and hands," said student Makayla Cochrane, 12.

The sharks asked what skills the group was trying to build with the trivia product and what types of changes it would make to cater to different age levels and interests.

The next presentation was called Sound Box for Annalise. She has dystonic cerebral palsy, which affects the trunk muscles. The students incorporated several of their ideas, including a pingpong ball drop, rings for side-to-side movement and drums made out of paper plates to represent the client's love of music.

"We feel like this toy will most benefit Annalise in therapy because it's something that entertains her while still helping her CP," said Colt Pugh, 12.

The sharks appreciated the fact that the drum sticks were built into the project, but thought it might be too big for easy transportation.

The third group demonstrated its prototype, Box of Shapes, which featured a cardboard box with cut-out shapes on the lid. The shapes could be opened to include magnets to add weight to the structures for more difficulty. The client, Rudy, has spastic cerebral palsy, which limits movement because of stiff muscles and spasms. The students believe their prototype would help strengthen Rudy's motor skills and said 5% of proceeds made from sales would benefit the Special Olympics.

"The problem that we were challenged to solve was to build a multifunctional toy to help strengthen a child with CP's growth and motor skills and help strengthen the muscles in his phalanges and his forearm," said Kate Wagner, 12.

The panel explained that the toy wasn't an original idea, but liked the aspect that weights could be added to enhance difficulty.

The crew with Toy n' No Tantrum was focused on Eamon, who has ataxic cerebral palsy, which results in clumsy, jerky movements. The team's concept was composed of multiple toys, including a cup-and-ball toss, a marble track, noise makers and more.

"We wanted something unique, so we have all of these random little things that you can play with, touch and pull on and there's a bunch of different textures you can touch," said Claire Giett, 11. The sharks said they would definitely purchase this toy, as it was multipurpose and portable, but to choose one color scheme instead of having several.

Overall, the students said the "Shark Tank" experience was a little bit nerve-wracking but very exciting. Many students said they learned the significance of keeping an open mind and understanding the hardships others may face in life.

"It really opened up our eyes and made us grateful for what we have and that we really want to help," said Kate Wagner.

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(c)2019 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)

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