Center for Community Engagement

Sonoma: Engineering Students Make Playground Fun Accessible

Sonoma

The action of throwing or kicking a ball is an enjoyable part of childhood, but for children with disabilities, participating in group games and playground activities can be challenging. Students in Dr. Farid Farahmand's Introduction to Engineering 110 class are given the assignment of developing ways to make playground fun accessible for all children.

After discussing this project with the Adapted Physical Education program led by Professor Elaine McHugh, the project was born in the fall of 2009 and continues to offer this opportunity to new engineering students at Sonoma State. Service-learning students design a simple electro-mechanical ball throwing machine and as part of their final presentation unveil a working prototype of their assistive technology and explain their understanding of the universal engineering design concept. Through the use of a team blog, students are graded on a number of factors, including client requirements, reliability, accuracy, ease of use, and group dynamics.

Dr. Farahmand has seen a transformation in many service-learning engineering students. Each semester, students who are enrolled in the Introduction to Engineering class are asked to attend Saturday Sidekicks at SSU to meet their clients — children with disabilities. In their first meeting, the majority of engineering students feel uneasy interacting with physically challenged children. After three short months, upon completion of the project, the same engineering students are showing up on Saturdays, talking to parents, playing with the children, and testing their devices. The project is no longer for a grade. The project has a name, a face, and purpose.

As the project has evolved, Dr. Farahmand has utilized his past experience to improve the class. Project constraints have relaxed and he now prepares new students with information from previous years, making sure that they know what has already been achieved. As a result, students have become more creative and designed their own variation of the throwing machine, to include a kicking and sliding machine. Once the students are motivated, their creativity blossoms. This approach to teaching engineering has given the students the chance to learn how the engineering field can affect a distinct community, such as special needs, and the application of engineering principles like electro-mechanical systems gives children with disabilities a way to play with their peers.

To see a video of the prototypes in action, visit Dr. Farahmand's blog here.

Find out more about service learning and community engagement at
Sonoma State
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View campus service-learning projects involving assistive technologies:
CSU Los Angeles
CSU Los Angeles

Under the direction of Dr. Samuel Landsberger, Cal State LA's rehabilitation engineering students are weaving together engineering design with biomechanics, kinesiology and physiology to create numerous solutions for rehabilitation and everyday living for disabled individuals.

San Francisco State University
San Francisco State University

Whirlwind Wheelchair International is a non-profit social enterprise based out of the Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at San Francisco State University dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities in the developing world. Whirlwind has established partnerships with various student organizations to promote the availability of economic and sustainable wheelchairs that are designed based on feedback from future users.

Sonoma State University
Sonoma State University

The action of throwing or kicking a ball is an enjoyable part of childhood, but for children with disabilities, participating in group games and playground activities can be challenging. Students in Dr. Farid Farahmand's Introduction to Engineering 110 class are given the assignment of developing ways to make playground fun accessible for all children.