Kentwood students build to help kids with special needs

Students used 3D printers and other materials to create unique and innovative devices that will make life a little easier for special education students.

Students from Kentwood High School are using their knowledge and skills to help special needs kids in the Kent School District.

Lindsey Duerre is the teacher who is in charge of Engineering Design, a class dedicated to teaching students real-world tasks and responsibilities.

With Duerre’s background in engineering, she has been able to incorporate a lot of her knowledge into the class.

“I went straight into the Navy after high school and worked on F-14 and F-18s, so like fighter jets, so I worked on all the electronics and electrical systems for that and then started teaching in 2008 and then was lucky enough to come to Kent where they have a full lab,” she said.

In this class, Duerre spends the first semester teaching her students the basics of engineering and how to work the tools that are provided for them in the classroom, such as the 3D printers. They also learn how to use CAD, which is a program that allows students to do computerized drawings, which can then be turned into a 3D printed object.

“So you draw a flat, two dimensional object, so the outline of a box, and then you use what’s called an extrusion tool that brings it up on the x, y or z axis to make it three-dimensional. And then we have a software the convert it, and then they can actually physically print the part,” Duerre said.

Once the second semester rolls around in January, the students start brainstorming and creating devices to help make someone’s life a little easier.

One of the projects that a group of students are working on is a lever that allows the client to turn the key to his car without twisting his wrist.

“One is for a client that had a stroke and (he) has the ability to move his arms, but not rotate his wrist, so they’ve created a levered device to attach to his car key so that he can start the car. We simulate that with the cars that are in the auto shop so that they can test their prototypes,” Duerre said.

Sean Larue, one of the students in Duerre’s class that created the levered device, said the hardest part about this project was coming up with designs and how to perfect it.

“I want something simple enough that he can use in everyday life, but is also advanced enough that he can take it with him anywhere he goes. If he gets a new car he can switch the keys out,” Larue said. “After a lot of revisions I think we’ve done really well and we’ve edited enough to make it work and make him happy.”

One of the other devices that students made is a device that allows a kindergartener with eyesight issues to see her iPad better. The students 3D printed a customized iPad holder that allows the girl to bring the iPad closer to her face at eye-level, rather than putting the iPad flat on a surface and having to crane her neck to see the iPad.

Another group of students made a different type of fidgeting device that allows a student to be able to play with it, but to not draw as much attention to himself.

“The student, who is moving from elementary school to middle school, they want something a little more discreet. So some students have created devices in cases that magnet close and magnet to his table. Another one created one like a watch that are Velcroed on, so they’re interchangeable,” Duerre said.

The device that is provided for the student already is large and very noticeable, so the student would rather have something that can be hidden while he fiddles with it. The unique aspect of the watch-like device is removable pieces that allows the client to take off and put on different fidget pieces.

Each student has to go through a process that allows them to figure out what their project will do and to figure out the best version of their project.

“We go through what’s typically the engineering design process that’s similar to the scientific process, but instead of inquiry they’re solving a problem. So they will brainstorm and then they will go online and will research existing ideas that are already out there. We even look at Amazon, because Amazon delivers a lot of the parts that we may or may not use,” Duerre said.

Each project goes to an occupational therapist that works with the clients, and is able to confirm that the device would be right for the person in need of it. The therapist also answers questions that each student might have about the client or the special need of the client.

Once approved by the therapist and finalizations to their device have been made, the final product can be delivered to the client and used for the rest of the year.

Duerre said there are multiple groups working for the same client, which means the client gets to choose when prototype they like the best.

Students are graded on multiple aspects of the this project, but the biggest thing is to work individually and on the process the students doing to get from point A to point B of the project.

“I’m not grading on who has the best design because that’s not what it’s about, its about going through that design process,” Duerre said.

They are also graded how well they give instructions on how to work their device.

To fund the engineering classes and to allow students to keep creating projects to help those in need, Duerre said a bulk of the money is grant-based.

“A lot of it is either grant writing that either comes from the district office or myself. Career and technical education classes are funded separately from math classes or English classes and so industries fund a lot of those,” Duerre said. “Boeing is a big supporter of us. It’s also funded at the state level because these are classes are should be preparing kids what they’re going to see in the real world and it’s taking all your core classes and turning it into something that looks like work.”

Other forms of funding include parents donating supplies and tools needed for students to succeed in the class.

Duerre said the community is encouraged to support career and technical education. She said she will also go out and ask parents to donate supplies as well. She will also reach out on social media and the Kentwood High School website to ask for donations.

By the end of the year when this project is done and the clients are all satisfied with the final product, Duerre said she hopes the students takeaway the skills they need to move on in the world.

“I’m not necessarily concerned if they want to be an engineer. Engineering is not for everybody and this might be a chance for them to learn that, but that they’re doing something that’s so meaningful for somebody else in the community,” she said. “It’s not a ‘Just do this assignment to get a grade,’ it’s doing something that somebody is actually going to benefit from and use. When you think about how that transfers as we turn into adults and look at our careers or look at our pathways to jobs, all of those 21st century jobs, all of those skills about time management, about communication, about nonverbal communication, those are all skills that I think are the most important to takeaway.”

She went onto to say that her favorite part about this class is seeing her students be successful.

“I think my favorite part and what I was working on just as a teacher as a goal this year is seeing them go from a prototype that looks like maybe not the most professional version to seeing a finished product that they’re really proud of,” Duerre said. “This is some of the best learning that kids are going to do and they’re so invested and they love it so much because they get videos back of their client using their devices, so they want to be able to help. You’re never going to find this in a textbook.”

Larue said his favorite part of the class has been to finally see he and his groups design become a real thing.

“(My favorite part was) coming up with all the ideas at first and making them a reality. That’s one thing I’ve really loved because I love how movies are made so that’s one of the reasons I’ve been taking this class is because I love making something that’s imagination, into reality and seeing the looks on people’s faces,” he said.

Duerre said there will be a competition that will take place around April 30 where the students’ projects will be presented to community members, admins, staff, parents and students.