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ODU STEM Education Students Make a Difference for the Holidays, Designing and Delivering Toys to CHKD

By Brendan O'Hallarn

All semester, students in two classes at Old Dominion University researched, designed, fabricated and tested three categories of toys that use the spatial skills that STEM education seeks to develop.

A visit to Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters in Norfolk on Dec. 6 illustrated the real value of these hands-on lessons.

A small group of students and their instructor, Petros Katsioloudis, associate professor and chair of STEM Education and Professional Studies in the Darden College of Education, brought 60 toys to the Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Clinic at CHKD for patients who will receive treatment over the holidays.

"My teaching motto is based on Dr. King's teaching: Intelligence plus character constitutes true education," Katsioloudis said. "Activities such as this one promote not only intelligence through content and knowledge but also build character for our students by promoting philanthropy and charity."

Katsioloudis created the assignment for his Manufacturing and Construction course in STEM Education. The project was supported by students in Material and Processes Technology, taught by Basim Matrood, lecturer of STEM Education and Professional Studies. "This was definitely a collaborative effort, and credit should go to many others, too, at ODU, EVMS and CHKD. I could have not completed this great project on my own," Katsioloudis said.

The students created three types of toys targeted for different age groups.

For the youngest patients, a colorful puzzle of a fish was created. Children in the middle age group (approximately 7 to 13) received a three-dimensional puzzle of ODU mascot Big Blue. The oldest patients, up to age 22, received a logic puzzle that challenges them to assemble blocks in the proper pattern to form a self-standing orb.

Bryan Sellitti, a child life specialist at CHKD, helps children cope with anxiety during medical procedures and often uses the power of play to help children who are undergoing long hours of treatment. "We are excited to receive the toys designed for the kids at CHKD. They will be a wonderful distraction for children who have to spend long hours at the clinic receiving treatment during the holidays," Sellitti said.

The project, including the delivery of toys, was meaningful for the Old Dominion students as well.

"It was a fantastic feeling of accomplishment being able to see the happy reactions of the kids once we gave them the toys that my colleagues and I have been working on for the past few months," said Marcus Toms, a mechanical engineering student from Catlett, Virginia. "I hope that those puzzles will provide hours of entertainment, and challenge them to think outside the box."

Rachel Talbott, a senior in STEM and Professional Studies from Boston, Virginia, who is graduating this semester, was moved by the power of play during the visit.

"I loved seeing the kids' eyes light up while they worked on solving the puzzles that we created this semester. It made me feel like we had done something useful while working on a school project," she said.

Each of the three ODU student groups came up with its own toy concept, as well as the manufacturing procedures. "It was really a great exercise, working through the manufacturing process. The students went from taking five hours to make one of the prototypes to being able to produce a toy in five minutes," Katsioloudis said. The students made a total of 60 toys.

The project greatly benefited the ODU students, Katsioloudis said, but it also brought a small measure of joy to the children at CHKD just before the holidays.

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