KIPP students help design therapeutic toys for kids with cerebral palsy

ByBella diGrazia and Dan Calnan

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Eighth graders at KIPP Academy spent the past month embracing the world of engineering design and STEM research so they could lend helping hands.

Project Lead the Way brings hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experiences into classrooms. As part of this new curriculum, students at the local charter school used 3D printers to design therapeutic toys for children with cerebral palsy.

“It’s an organization that really pushes students at all levels to be creative, hands on, and to show what they know,” said Amal Mohamed, the KIPP Academy teacher in charge of the new curriculum. “Our students were introduced to a middle schooler with cerebral palsy and from there they were given a challenge where they were to help the patient function with their daily tasks.”

Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while the child’s brain is under development, — before birth, during birth, or immediately after birth. The disorder affects body movement and muscle coordination.

The KIPPsters, as the eighth graders are called, designed toys with the goal of helping patients develop and strengthen muscles in fingers, hands, and wrists. They worked in teams to develop their ideas and will have a chance to present their designs at Boston Children’s Hospital later this year. On Monday, the students unveiled their initial designs as practice to get helpful classmate feedback.

“I didn’t know what cerebral palsy was called until Ms. Mohamed started teaching us about it,” said Piero Canales, a student taking part in the project. “The most fun part was designing it on the computer.”

Through the program, Canales, whose cousin in Honduras has cerebral palsy, learned more about the chronic health condition and got to brainstorm ways to help those affected by it. Canales and his group designed a rubber ball that changes color when squeezed, which would help patients work on muscle movement in their hands, fingers and forearms.

“I like that we got to use our creative ideas and put it into something that is related to science and education,” said Rebecca Unubun, another student in the project.

Unubun and her group designed a toy that would help those with cerebral palsy stretch their fingers. They were inspired to make their building block toy after watching a video where a boy with the condition had trouble moving his hands.

As the students continue to practice their presentations, Mohamed and her colleagues are teaching the students the best way to present in a professional sense. The classroom will come together within the month to choose which group deserves to present to Boston Children’s Hospital.

“When I saw the curriculum I really wanted to make sure our kids, especially my girls, are exposed to STEM and science at an early age because the transition to high school is when they start to think science is boring, which is why we have such a big gap of women in the STEM field,” said Mohamed. “I want my girls to know these are the kind of engaging and hands on jobs that are out there for them in this field.”