KSDE Weekly

Feature Story

Visually impaired, blind students vie for spots in national Make48 competition

Visually impaired, blind students vie for spots in national Make48 competition

“This is the greatest experience ever,” Sydney Parcell told her teammates and team captain as she took a break from brainstorming ideas for the Make48 collaborative inventor challenge at the Kansas School for the Blind in Kansas City, Kansas, on Friday, June 9. 

The competition had gotten underway at 11:30 a.m. and the six teams, comprised of blind and visually impaired Kansas students, had just learned they were tasked with building a physical prototype of a toy, creating a sales sheet, producing a one-minute marketing video and pitching their ideas to a panel of judges – all within 48 hours. 

Make 48 competitions have taken place all across the United States since 2015. In fact, the KSSB event will air as the first episode of season seven. But Make48 staff members had a learning curve because competitors at KSSB are all blind or visually impaired.  

KSSB hosted a Make48 challenge in December 2022, and the event was extraordinary, said Tom Gray, Make48 CEO. The goal of hosting Make48 at KSSB was to show that innovation has no barriers and that anyone can compete, Gray said. 

“The Kansas State School for the Blind and Make48 just proved a lot in 48 hours,” he wrote in an online post on LinkedIn after the December competition. “Having a visually impaired disability means very little. These students are very capable, outstanding design thinkers and can compete with anyone if given the opportunity.” 

Going into the competition, Gray didn’t know what to expect. 

“It was very nerve-wracking on day one,” he said about the December challenge during an interview before the start of the June competition. “But they had so much energy and were so grateful for us being here.” 

Competitors and KSSB staff members are grateful that Make48 selected KSSB as the site to host the December 2022 event and this month’s event.  

“It has been great exposure for our kids,” said Jon Harding, KSSB superintendent. “It shows that people with disabilities can design and be innovative. I think some of our biggest work here is educating the public and demystifying the disability. We are not an institution. We are doing creative and innovative things here. This is a high-value, high-energy competition. Make48 took a risk on us, and we took a risk on them. We love the partnership.” 

Competitors didn’t have to be KSSB students, Harding said. 

“It’s a great opportunity for them to meet people – to help them build relationships and move forward,” he said. 

The June 9-11 competition included six teams, with three students on each team, for a total of 18 competitors. Most of the students stayed in dorms on the KSSB campus during the three days of brainstorming, building and creating. 

“They go to bed late and they get up very early,” Harding said. 

Before the competition started June 9, teams gathered in the KSSB makerspace to learn the rules and hear what their challenge theme was going to be. Team names were read aloud as guests cheered and clapped. DNAwesome. The Innovators. The Three Rocketeers. Nuts and Bolts. Fusion Force. The Machine Heads. 

The competition started at 11:30 a.m. As the clock began counting down from 48 hours, teams made their way to a large room where they began talking about their ideas to develop a brand new toy invention. Brainstorming continued throughout the day, and teams also met with patent lawyers. 

Each day ends at midnight, and students can’t get back to work until 6 a.m. the following day. As Saturday, June 10, dawned bright and early, students made a hardware run where they had $200 per team to spend on supplies. Then, it was back to work at the KSSB makerspace. Teams worked with volunteer tool technicians to make their ideas come to life. 

Sunday, June 11, was spent making last-minute tweaks and presenting finalized projects to a panel of judges. 

The winning team was … well, you’ll have to wait until the show airs to find out. And don’t ask any of the guests who were in attendance. They had to sign nondisclosure agreements. 

We can tell you that the winning team received $2,000 and design prototypes were shared with Matt Nuccio, president of Design Edge, a leader in the toy and game industry. Nuccio will review team ideas, watch marketing videos and possibly share the ideas with his clients for use in future toy development. 

The top two teams from this month’s competition will advance to the finals Nov. 10-12 in North Little Rock, Arkansas, to compete with other winning teams from season seven. 

KSSB’s nonprofit, the KC Blind All-Stars, was a sponsor for the June competition and will cover travel expenses for members of the top two teams. 

For students like Parcell, a 16-year-old Derby High School student who wants to become a chef and open her own restaurant, the thought of having her team’s prototype used to help design a real-world toy is “amazing.” 

“I’m very competitive,” she said. “I’m in it to win it.” 

The competition may even shift the course of her future plans, she said. 

“I love to use my imagination and be creative,” Parcell said. 

She was one of three students on her team, The Innovators. 

Several students who competed in the Make48 challenge in December returned in June to serve as team mentors. 

Addie Bartels, 14, of Holton, Callie Dyches, 16, of Overland Park, and Riley Warrick, 16, of Udall, said the December challenge was a great learning opportunity for them, and they were excited to return as mentors. 

Bartels, who wants to become a special education teacher, and Warrick both competed on the Wild Wings team. 

Dyches, who wants to work in tech and programming, was a member of the Little Red Hens team. 

Their challenge was to develop a product that would hold, display and possibly dispense farm-fresh eggs. 

The Little Red Hens won with their prototype, The Egg Barn, which was a wooden, barn-shaped egg storage unit with three shelves that were slanted downward at a slight angle to make the eggs easier to access. 

Dyches and the Little Red Hens advanced to the finals, which took place March 31-April 2 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Innovation Studio. They competed against six other teams with the challenge theme of animal wellness. 

The winning team at finals receives $10,000. 

“Nationals were a lot higher stakes and stressful,” Dyches said. “But I learned a lot.” 

You can watch Make48 on This Old House Makers Channel on Roku’s Live TV channel 458 and also on the Make48 YouTube channel. 

Although Make48 is televised and offers great exposure to host sites like KSSB, that isn’t what it was about for Harding and the students. At the December and June events, competitors not only used academic skills, such as math and reading, throughout the event, they also learned valuable social skills and communication skills, according to Harding. 

“It takes all of those skills and combines them,” he said. “There are so many life lessons in this process. It’s an empowering experience. I think it’s the future of education.” 

What is Make48? 

Make48 is a nationwide invention-competition docuseries distributed by American Public Television that gives teams a challenge at the start of a two-day event. With just 48 hours, teams must create a prototype, promotional video and sales sheet, and present their idea to a panel of judges. The teams have access to a makerspace and numerous Tool Techs who can make almost anything, patent attorneys, marketing experts and more.  

This format allows everyone to have a level playing field and the chance to win, with no prior technical knowledge necessary. 

For more information, visit www.make48.com

Posted: Jun 15, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush
Tags: KSSB

Theme picker

Copyright 2024 by Kansas State Department of Education | 900 SW Jackson St. | Topeka, KS 66612 Privacy Statement  |  Terms Of Use  |  System Maintenance Notices  |  Open Records (PDF)

The Kansas State Department of Education does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or age in its programs and activities. (more information...)

To accommodate people with disabilities, on request, auxiliary aides and services will be provided and reasonable modifications to policies and programs will be made. To request accommodations or for more information please contact the Office of General Counsel at gc@ksde.org or by 785-296-3201.