Pioneer Matthew Wigdahl's fifth-graders use Design Thinking and 3D printing to help a fellow student.
Have you ever heard of a swivel spoon? It is a modified utensil, created to assist people with limited mobility in their wrists or hands. Recently, our district's occupational therapist (OT) approached our class with a problem: a classmate of ours was using the swivel spoon, but it still wasn’t quite meeting his needs. She explained how he needed an additional angle to fully use the spoon independently.
A team of 5th graders went straight to work on this problem. This was a perfect example of how we use the 3D printer in our classroom. Using a Design Thinking framework to guide project discovery, planning, and implementation, students seek local problems and work to solve them. This opportunity was exactly what we look for.
Their first step was to learn about their classmate “client” and his needs. They emailed with him and the OT to gather information. Next, they identified the problem and got more information about the utensil. After that, ideating on the solutions, they drew pictures and made prototypes using whatever junk was laying around.
A 3D design and printed prototype were created to test the solution. The students printed their file, only to discover it was about 2 cm long. Though I could clearly see this problem in the design stage, it was a helpful part of the learning process that this failure was allowed to happen. (The fact that it would only waste a half meter of filament also made it OK.)
After discovering that their size was wrong, they rethought the prototype and determined they would need more precise measurements. They asked the client to create a mold of his grip using clay. This helped them measure how big to create the printed attachment. Combining this information with careful measurements of the existing swivel spoon, they redesigned their prototype. The students used Tinkercad to work out the shapes, with some guidance from their teacher on what good prints need. (For example, how best to print round shapes and overhangs.)
They printed one more failed prototype, due to a miscalculation of where to locate the screw holes. Their third print was perfect! (You can find the file on youmagine.com) They sent it to their classmate and he’s been using it to eat ever since.
Our class has partnered with our local university engineering department this year. The engineering students developed assistive technology projects and worked as mentors for our 5th graders on their projects. During the development of this swivel spoon, the work was demonstrated at a project fair at the university. My students were able to see some complex Arduino-run machine prototypes, as well as show off their 5th-grade work. The swivel spoon, while a fairly simple design, was a perfect example of Design Thinking in action, as well as an appropriate assistive tech project for my 5th-grade learners. And, of course, a great learning experience in 3D design and printing!