Rich Lehrer and Annie Johnson, two educators at Brookwood School in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, partnered to create D-Zign Girlz and D-Zign Kidz – two programs that connect sixth grade students with local seniors to solve problems using design. The process began with Brookwood students talking to seniors about problems in their lives that needed solving. Once they had solutions in mind, the students used materials like cardboard, tape, and Play-Doh to create prototypes of their proposed devices, then used Tinkercad to design and 3D print them. This collaboration led to amazing inventions like a playing-card holder for someone with a bad rotator cuff, and a bingo marker that is easy to pick up and move. “One thing that was crucial to the success of this was the diversity of thought,” Lehrer noted. “We had young designers with very little life experience working with seniors who had lots of life experience, but maybe not much technical expertise.”
Easy to move bingo marker
After arriving at Brookwood, Lehrer recruited 12 eighth-graders to spend the year trying to build his son Max a workable prosthetic. His students divided into three teams—one to find a 3D printer, one to find thermoplastic, and one to find the hardware the project required. After the students finished their third iteration of the Robohand, Lehrer brought in Max. “We had him try it out,” Lehrer says, “and he was able to pick up some blocks. In 20 seconds, my whole professional and personal life pivoted.” he said. “When Max used a device created by my students to do something he had never done before, that was a huge transformative moment. The Robohand was the beginning of the really interesting, exciting stuff.”
Lehrer’s son Max and his 3D printed Robohand
Lehrer is committed to providing students with the opportunities to develop creative solutions to real world problems. In order to do so, Lehrer created the Problem Bank—an online collection of real-life problems posted by members of the school community. Problem Bank submissions include:
“When we draw self-portraits in art class, we need a support to keep the mirror in the same place for the duration of the drawing.”
“The plastic brackets that currently hold our library shelves tend to break easily when supporting large heavy books. Can you design new brackets?”
He also set up guidelines for educators wanting to set up problem banks at their own schools. For his efforts, Lehrer won a 2017 Infy Maker Award, was recently name a PBS Digital Innovator.
Thank you Jim for encouraging us to use 3D printing as tool for bringing design thinking into people’s lives in a meaningful way!
For more information, check out the resources below.
- The PBS Design Squad 3D prints a refined Robohand for Max
- So You’re a Teacher with a 3D Printer – Now What?