Eastern Wake News

Kenan Fellows make waves in East Wake

The “wearable devices” Kenan Fellow team, from left: Justus McGee, Joann Blumenfeld, Esta Lampkin and Ursula Jones.
The “wearable devices” Kenan Fellow team, from left: Justus McGee, Joann Blumenfeld, Esta Lampkin and Ursula Jones. Courtesy Esta Lampkin

Esta Lampkin, a seventh-grade science teacher at Zebulon Middle School, has spent her summer hooked up to an invention that could save lives.

As part of the Kenan Fellowship, Lampkin and a handful of other Wake County public school teachers received a grant and worked with a mentor on a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) project over the summer. Lampkin helped create and test out a wearable device that tracks body heat.

“My mom ... actually had heatstroke seven years ago,” Lampkin said. “I wanted to create a device where they (the elderly) can monitor their own temperature and take steps to cool themselves. Heatstroke actually inhibits their ability to realize they’re getting hot.”

Beyond using the device for young children and elderly folks who might be more susceptible to heat exhaustion, Lampkin said the device is practical in many ways, and she plans to rotate 10 of the devices among her students next year in the classroom. They will track the data daily and monitor their own health.

“I’m wearing one on my arm,” Lampkin said. The device looks almost like a watch clipped on by Velcro. It can change colors for three different levels of body temperature monitored by touching the skin.

Mentored by Jess Jur at N.C. State University’s National Science Foundation and sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, Lampkin’s team of four created the device that can even track the body heat of a dog.

“One woman was worried about having seizures in her classroom,” Lampkin said. By using the wearable device to track body temperature, teachers could take note of a potential oncoming seizure or other health issues.

They utilized Arduino, a do-it-yourself prototype platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software, which allowed them choose how the device responded. Although they chose color change, they could also have used different sounds, vibrations, a change of temperature or others.

Statewide effort

Forty teachers statewide – including 15 in Wake County – were awarded the fellowship this year as part of a statewide K-12 education initiative of the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science at N.C. State University. The fellowship award comes with a $6,000 stipend and 80 hours of professional development.

Teachers interned this summer at local industry and research settings to learn how the work being done in those places can be made relevant to students. Throughout the following year, Lampkin and her peers will develop programs to use in their classrooms and share with other educators across the state.

Knightdale High School of Collaborative Design math teacher Sherri Pinkney was also awarded the fellowship, and she will use lessons learned from her wearable device project to teach 11th- and 12th-graders this year.

Instead of a wristband, Pinkney’s project focused on a T-shirt for the elderly and people with Multiple Sclerosis.

“We picked this project because one of the young ladies in the group, her sister has MS, and I have friends that have MS,” she said. “There’s a fear of mobility and fear of falling...we felt that was a big concern.”

An electronic device sewn into the shirt tracks acceleration and will set off an alarm at a certain speed to alert doctors or family members of a fall.

She’ll introduce her students to her project and is excited for the potential learning opportunities.

“The fellowship was very important for me, it was very empowering and eye-opening to see current issues in our society, and to collect data to predict situations and prevent situations,” Pinkney said. “It was an eye-opener to connect real world situations and engineering to mathematics.”

Lampkin, who has been at the school for five years, was thrilled to learn that Jur funded supplies for 10 devices for her students.

“(We will) help them create their own device and do what they want it to do,” she said. That can include tracking light, environmental or body temperature. “We already ordered them and are waiting on them.”

What she likes about the fellowship is that it combines thinking skills and collaboration – not simply the scientific method.

“One of the big things is to take what you’re doing and pass along to those students and teach them what you’re learning,” Lampkin said of the fellowship. “You’re building a larger network of devices, tours, teaching students and giving them access to things that they wouldn’t normally have access to... it’s opened my eyes to so many resources that are out there.”

And for Lampkin, it’s opened a whole new world.

“There were so many ideas I was writing in my notebook, I have so many ideas I’m going to share with my fellow teachers. I ’m really excited,” she added. “My teammate and I are going to do a similar project with another device.”