CCCBSD 3D printer

Diversifying the learning process with 3D printing at CCCBSD

The Children’s Center for Communication and Beverly School for the Deaf (CCCBSD) is dedicated to educating young learners with hearing loss through hands-on models and assistive devices. With combined efforts that help those who have learning or communication disabilities, CCCBSD as a whole supports students from preschool to high school.

At CCCBSD, new technology like 3D printers ensures that students are able to participate in STEAM programs to sharpen their skills and learn in ways that fit their individual needs. While deaf or hard of hearing students are supported through efforts like sign language, cochlear implants, hearing aids, and more, 3D printers mean that learning tools are more accessible. According to Janice Coughlin, the Assistive Technology Specialist at CCCBSD, tech like 3D printers fosters engagement and creative thinking by opening up more opportunities for students to print objects like snowflakes, pyramids, buildings, and more.

3D printed cat
A 3D printed sphynx cat
3D printed pyramid
A 3D printed pyramid in two parts

3D printing has helped engage our students with their own ideas and has fostered and encouraged them to think independently about what they would like to build.

Other students come to their school with a variety of physical or developmental challenges including autism and cerebral palsy, which makes these tangible objects essential for bridging gaps in their STEAM efforts. “My focus is to find an avenue that will help augment their knowledge, access to all of our resources and increase independence and confidence,” Janice says. That’s where Ultimaker came into the fold at CCCBSD.

Leaping over learning hurdles with Ultimaker

With the help of CCCBSD’s IT Specialist Joe Sharamitaro, the school chose an Ultimaker 2+ and later an Ultimaker 3 to bolster that sense of learning empowerment for students. Inspired by neuromuscular disabilities and orthopedic research by the University of Delaware, the CCCBSD team knew that they needed affordable, reliable machines that could output the designs they needed and save them money in the process.

3D printed keyguard
A 3D printed tablet keyguard

One of the objects Janice and Joe found particularly useful to print was a 'keyguard', which is an assistive technology support object that helps students isolate their index finger when using a communication app on a tablet. “To order the keyguard for the app it would cost $41.95 plus shipping and waiting on the turnaround time of 5-10 business days,” Janice explains.

We don’t have much time when a supportive device, an app, or a speech-generative device changes for a student, so to be able to move quickly with 3D printing and ensure instant gratification for a student is amazing.

With their Ultimaker 2+ and Ultimaker 3 on hand, they’re able to print custom keyguards and a custom switch for a mere fraction of the cost and time it would take to purchase new ones. The switch, which cost a mere $3.92 to print, would otherwise cost the school $65 to buy new. They're also able to create tablet stands, gifts for students’ parents, and projects that students have modeled from STEAM materials to translate into 3D images, which is beneficial to the learning and growth of students according to Janice.

3D printed switch
A 3D printed switch that saved the school over $60

“The simple process of seeing something that is one dimensional and developing a 3D version that can be touched, manipulated, and developed from an idea or an existing repository of items is amazing,” she says. “It increases math and spatial skills, extending our STEAM efforts to see what is possible when imagination and technology work together.”

The power of 3D printing in the classroom

One of the strongest reactions to 3D printing at CCCBSD is amazement, Janice says. Students enjoy watching time-lapse recordings of print projects, replaying large print jobs back in a matter of seconds to show how the layers build and objects come to life.

To print a greek pyramid on a Tuesday and have students hold it in their hands on a Wednesday is incredible.

They are also in the process of testing their Ultimaker printers with a smart plug that will allow both verbal and non-verbal students to turn on the printer with voice prompts, speech output, or by switch. Janice and Joe are excited about other applications with dual-extrusion from the Ultimaker 3 that enables them to create more objects that help students physically access computers, smartboards, and more.

Ultimaker 3D printing at the school
Ultimaker 3D printing at the school

In the meantime, Janice says that every level of student has benefited from having a 3D printer at CCCBSD. “Tactile pieces for visually impaired, objects that make it easier for students to attend a group lesson while reducing behaviors and distraction, and models that represent scaled down versions of larger objects; all of these help support students in our STEAM efforts,” Janice says.

“They sharpen their math skills and design skills using CAD software like Tinkercad too, which allows students to then move their pieces to art for an activity creating a painting or developing a design for a well-rounded curriculum.” With seemingly limitless possibilities for ways that 3D printing can help students with learning or communication disabilities, we’re excited to see what the staff and students at CCCBSD do next.

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