Central Dauphin 5th graders design 3D printed device to help classmate communicate

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In March, five students in Linglestown Elementary’s gifted program were given a special assignment. Their classmate, Sophia, is non-verbal and uses a speaker to communicate basic words.

But it was hard for Sophia to know which button she was actually pushing.

“Our goal was to make it so Sophia was able to tell where the button was, so she wasn’t just putting her hand over and not knowing where the button was,” said 5th grader Sam Laeder.

The group came up with four prototypes for Sophia to test, using the school’s new 3-D printer. The fourth time was the charm, as they developed a successful addition to her device.

“I felt like we had accomplished something big and it felt really good to help Sophia with her device,” said 5th grader Andrew Gergal.

Sophia’s teacher, Jessica Muchoney, says the design is helping her navigate the device. It’s also unlike anything available on the market.

“It’s the most heartwarming experience I think I have had so far in my career,” Muchoney said. “It just helps her feel a little bit more difference around the buttons and the original plastic grid that was around the device, and it helps elevate her hand a little bit so it doesn’t lay flat on the device and activate buttons she didn’t intend to.”

The project was led by gifted support teacher Adrienne Burns.

“I knew they were able to take on the challenge of real-world problem solving,” she said. “And to know we were able to take a technology and have 10 and 11 year olds figure this out and really create something that will be a positive difference for somebody’s life, that’s a teacher’s dream.”

“The feeling of accomplishment was a big feeling because we know we changed someone’s life and it will help them,” Laeder said .

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