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East County Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2019 1 month ago

Out-of-Door Academy students' novel idea honored

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ODA students create adaptive storybook that earns state TSA award.
by: Andrew Atkins Staff Writer

When you think about a children’s storybook, you might think of colorful pictures, rhymes, and bite-sized bits of learning.

You might not think about Braille illustration descriptions so the visually impaired can imagine what’s on the page. You might not think about speakers that read the words aloud for those who can’t discern the words themselves.

You might not think about a specialized font so the letters stay in place for those with dyslexia. You might not think about felt pieces for tactile learning or words in rhymes to help with learning retention.

But The Out-of-Door Academy sophomores Kaylen Rivers and Reece Whatmore did, and it was enough to snag them second place at the Technological Student Association state conference in Orlando. They will compete at the national level June 28-July 2 in Washington, D.C.

Theresa Beeman, who is the head of the science department at Out-of-Door Academy as well as the TSA adviser, said the students were learning how to put the scientific method in action and gleaning valuable experience in doing so.

“I think our (project) ticks a lot of boxes,” Beeman said. “I think we’ve got a really good chance.”

Rivers’ and Whatmore’s book, “A Trip to Cell City,” reimagines all the parts of a biological cell as a city. The story follows “Mollie the Molecule” through “Cell City” to find her best friend, “Ellie the Element.” Readers follow “Mollie the Molecule” down roads to each new part of the cell/city, like the mitochondria solar panels to generate power or the nucleus library where all the information is stored.

Rivers and Whatmore collaborated for the project, each brainstorming and troubleshooting together. Rivers handled the voice recordings and Reece created all the drawings. They assembled their book in the web-based, design studio, Canva.

The two teens said they chose cells since they had taken biology and all the information was fresh in their brains. They started in September and didn’t finish the book until three days before the competition, which was in early March.

Part of their design process included going to Oak Park School to test the book out, and high schoolers saw that the children enjoyed the fabric touches, which influenced their decision to add more.

Both students said they enjoyed the challenge the experience offered.

“It was really cool to see the voice come to life,” Whatmore said, especially after they struggled to get the buttons to work.

“I think that’s what set us apart from the other competitors,” Rivers said.

The competitors both have a few ideas in mind in terms of changes and revisions they would like to make to the book before the national competition.

This was the first year Out-of-Door Academy had a TSA club, and thus it was their first time competing. Beeman likened the experience to the Academy Awards.

“It’s kind of like the Academy Awards where they say ‘Just being here is an honor.’ To me, it really feels like that,” she said.

She also sees a bright future for both Rivers and Whatmore.

“There’s just such curiosity about them,” she said. “They have the drive and the work ethic to back it up, and that’s going to lead them to success.”

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