A Perfect Match: Design Solutions Meets Service-Learning

We’re very pleased to share the following fascinating and ongoing service-learning project, shared by our colleague Karen Shorr, of Brookwood School in Massachusetts. Karen is an alumnus of CWI’s Summer Institute on Service-Learning and Sustainability.

For the past three years, Brookwood School in Manchester, MA has been pioneering authentic, community-based 3D designing and printing projects.

After becoming one of the first schools in the world to involve its students in the creation of a 3D printed prosthetic for a child—in this case Brookwood teacher Rich Lehrer’s son, Max—the school began looking for ways to further involve students in the use of design thinking and 3D printing to create solutions for community problems as a veBrookwood D-Zign Girlz awards ceremony with Harborlight Community Partnershicle to teach empathy. In 2014, a school-wide tool called the 3D Design Problem Bank was created that provides students with the opportunity to become inventors and engineers who create solutions to an online “bank” of teacher-generated problems in need of a design solution.

In April of 2016, teachers Annie Johnson and Rich Lehrer expanded this work into the community with the piloting of “D-Zign Girlz”, a community design project in which a small group of 6th grade girls developed connections and collaborated with residents of a Harborlight Community Partners seniors’ affordable housing complex to create 3D printed assistive technologies. Drawing on the success of this pilot, this year Brookwood has scaled this project to include two more HCP residences and its entire 6th-grade class.

view their project video on PBS  •  learn more about service-learning

Brookwood’s six D-Zign Girlz, along with their instructors Grade 6 science teacher Annie Johnson and Innovation Coordinator Rich Lehrer, are the recipients of Harborlight Community Partners’ 2016 Service Partner Award. The group was recognized at a gala ceremony on November 10 at which State Senator Bruce Tarr, representing the 4th Essex District, presented them with their honors.

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Upper Schoolers Sophia B., Ella D., Abigail G., Brooke G., Addie L., and Gracie P. – received recognition for the work they did inventing assistive devices that helped improve the lives of seniors living at Beverly’s Harborlight House.

DZign Girlz hard at work 3D printingThe girls received citations from both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Senate as well as Harborlight Community Partners. In presenting the awards, Senator Tarr praised the students for the creativity of their inventions and added that the girls had far more to be proud of. “You did a great job in getting your projects moving forward but I want you to remember this …. You touched a lot of peoples’ lives in that home and that is something they will never ever forget.”

In accepting the award for Brookwood and introducing the girls as “game changers,” Head of School Laura Caron said the project was noteworthy because it taught, “something we care very much about at Brookwood which is using technology to not just figure out what you can do with it, but to figure out what to do with it to actually make an impact in human lives.” Laura added, “We are all so proud of the ways in which our students were able to connect, understand and most importantly learn from the seniors at Harborlight House. That to me is one of the most important things that came out of this for our students. We hope we were able to offer things of value and things of personal meaning to help make other people’s lives better. That’s what we care about.”

D-ZIGN GIRLS was a 2016 Steep Week class taught by Annie and Rich, which sought “to involve the students in authentic designing and 3-D printing of solutions to real world problems for actual recipients. We also hoped to inspire and empower students to become change makers and problem solvers in their lives and communities,” according to Annie. Students met with seniors at Harborlight, learned about problems the seniors experienced that could be solved with a tool or device, and then designed and created solutions for those challenges with Brookwood’s 3-D printers. The girls conducted preliminary interviews with four seniors about their interests, their lives, and some of their challenges in order to pinpoint problems that needed solving. Students visited the seniors’ residences and took lots of notes, photographs, and measurements. Watch the WGBH Design Squad Global Video: 3D-Design Problem Bank.

The girls then returned to school to work on the devices and created a series of prototypes. After presenting these to the seniors for honest feedback, the team took more measurements and went back to the classroom to make adjustments. The next day students returned to Harborlight House with their designs. “Friday, the girls presented their final designs to the seniors! They were thrilled!” Annie says.

Closing the awards was Massachusetts State Representative Ann Margaret Ferrante, representing the 5th Essex District, who spoke to those gathered about the important work of Harborlight Community Partners. She then congratulated and spoke directly to the Brookwood girls. “I want you all to dream and I want you all to dream big. You have a talent … you have many talents. You have opportunities that some children may never have,” Ferrante said. She continued, “think big, you dream big. You hold your head up high and you never forget tonight. You never forget those words as long as you live.

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Community Works Institute (CWI) provides resources, professional development, and collaboration opportunities for educators. Our focus is on place based education, service learning, and sustainability.
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