For our Maker Project, we decided to create a tool that can be useful in a multitude of different environments. This tool, or technology, that we created has the opportunity to aid a teacher who has students with disabilities in his/her classroom. As general education students, we have realized that almost every regular classroom will have at least one student with either learning disabilities or some type of special need.
We decided to label our Maker Project as the “Calm Cart”, with the aim at allowing students to take a break from normal class work if they need a moment to calm down. In thinking of this cart, we knew that any teacher would be eager to have a tool in their room that could help calm a rising situation for a student with Autism, Downs Syndrome, or some other disability.
In the Calm Cart, we decided to tackle four of the five senses. The sense we decided to leave out is taste, for a few different reasons. One reason is the issue of allergies in the classroom. It is wise not give out any type of food or other type of snack that might cause a reaction. Another reason we decided not to use taste as part of our cart is to avoid the issue of choking, or abuse of the food such as gum.
We decided to incorporate the different senses by providing multiple sensory items. For touch we created bean jars and cardboard “feel-its”. We had a multitude of other ideas to use for the sense of touch but decided to only carry out a few actual options. In knowing that there are more options available, we decided that teachers would easily be able to transfer in and out the different tools that students would be able to use on the Calm Cart.
When thinking about the sense of smell, we decided that a teacher could use cotton balls scented from a variety of calming and/or pleasing smells. These smells could include, but are not limited to; vanilla, different essential oils, coffee, coconut, and lavender. Once the cotton balls are scented, they can be placed in small plastic or glass jars to preserve the smell. We determined that smells can have a calming effect on students, specifically when on the Autism spectrum. We found multiple places of research that backs this information, and figured that it would have a similar effect on most children within a classroom.
The sense of sight is one that can be achieved in multiple ways. We decided to make oil-bottles that allowed for glitter to glide through the substance inside. This creates a visually appealing scene and can be entertaining for quite a while. Many other objects on our Calm Cart can fall into the sight category such as the apps available on an iPad, the “i-spy” bottles, and even the “feel-its”.
As a group, we had the most fun coming up with ways to create our sense of touch on the Calm Cart. We created “feel-its” on cardboard which has a multitude of different textures. We also believe that rice, beans and other small items can create a soothing texture to sink hands into. Teachers can find a variety of different touch objects in their own classroom to easily display on the calm cart.
For the final sense, hearing, we decided it would be best to create quiet hearing opportunities so as not to distract from any learning going on in the classroom. This would make most sense to use an iPad with apps such as metronomes, piano keys, and guitar chords that can be played with while wearing headphones.
Our Calm Cart Process:
Starting this process, we decided we wanted to use the 3D printer available to the class for parts of our Calm Cart. When we started the project, we were given little instruction on how to run the machine. This gave us the opportunity to explore and understand the machine better.
When we first started, we wanted to make pieces for a game that would be on the cart but as we did research, we stumbled upon the idea of a braille rubix cube. We thought this would be a unique and creative thing to add to our cart. Because our process has been such a lengthy one, we do not have all of the pieces for our rubix cube.
As we continued to learn, we faced many obstacles because the plate wasn’t properly calibrated so the printer would either gouge into the plate or extrude onto nothing. When this would happen, we would have to wait for the printer to cool off before we could do anything else, so we would have to wait to start the process on another day. Once the plate was calibrated, there would be days that the machine was temperamental and would print improperly. For example, one day the extruder began to swing to the sides and print at an angle when that was not required for what we were trying to print. Another challenge we frequently had was the plate actually warming up. A couple of times when we printed, since the plate wasn’t hot enough, the plastic would not stick to the plate when it printed and so would not print properly. Here is an example:
We were finally able to print different pieces multiple weeks after we had originally begun the process. Even then, the printer would act up and we would end up waiting hours for the plate to heat up just a couple of degrees. The video below shows one of the early attempts at creating our rubix cube using the 3D printer.
Through this frustration and trial and error, we were able to experience disequilibrium. We became upset multiple times because our original plan would not work. However, through the struggles and changed plans, were were able to accommodate our original plans for those that would work best with our situation. This was a helpful takeaway throughout the process of making our Calm Cart. In life, we will be faced with many situations that may not quite go as planned. Whether this be in our jobs as teachers or on some other avenue, we learned that the only way to successfully get through it is to take a step back, brainstorm, and work together. We hope that our idea of a Calm Cart can be helpful in the future, even if it is only for one child.
While creating this Calm Cart, we brainstormed many ideas. Some failed, and some succeeded and stuck around. The ideas that failed were thrown out because of practicality, price of necessary materials, and other reasons that we, as a group, felt were not realistic. We wanted to create a cart that was simple to make so that a single teacher could be able to make it. We also wanted it to be directed at the diverse and exceptional needs that can be found in any classroom.
While creating the actual cart, we added all the material that we made ahead of time, and put them into labeled containers. The containers had labels such as “ stress relief” “texture touch”, “soft touch”, and “feel-it boards”. The cart is organized by the senses; meaning that all the “touch” items are together, all the “smell” items are together, all the “hear” items are together, etc. The cart is also organized by skill set, meaning organized by what skill they are able to accomplish.
The most beneficial thing about a Calm Cart is that a teacher could use it in a variety of ways. We feel that this cart is best suited to be used as a “break” of sorts when children need to have some sort of reprieve from the regular classroom. Rather than having an entire sensory room in a school, a teacher could have this one cart in the corner of a room, a closet, or shared between a few rooms. A sensory room disrupts the learning of the whole class when a student is removed from the situation, whereas a Calm Cart can be used quietly in the back of the room.
A Calm Cart can be created by individual teachers, or could be provided by a SPED or resource teacher. Depending on the needs of the learners at the time, the district or administration might decide to have someone in charge of preparing specific Calm Carts per department. In a school where SPED is not prevalent, a teacher could easily make a few items found on the Calm Cart to use in class. The items on this cart do not have to only be for children receiving SPED, but can actually be a calming time away from any stress of learning.
When a teacher is deciding what to have on the Calm Cart in regards to children with special needs, it is important to refer to the IEPs of the students within that class, as well as speak to those student’s parents one-on-one. By speaking with the parents, a teacher can gather the information necessary to understand what might settle a student easiest, especially if in grades K-2. In the higher grades, students will most likely have more input on what types of sensory items they would prefer to have available.
Teachers can have multiple different sensory items available but might only want to use a few at a time. By rotating what is on the Calm Cart, the teacher makes sure that the students using it will not get bored of what is available. It can also help pinpoint specific interests and tools that might help students focus better on school work.
Our overall goal when creating the Calm Cart was to supply a teacher with the necessary tools and technology in order to make everyday school life easier. It may not be perfect in every situation, but a Calm Cart can have a positive impact on a classroom, especially if used correctly. To achieve the maximal benefits of a Calm Cart, it is important that a teacher uses it at the appropriate times and never to keep a child busy if they feel they are not learning. It is always the role of both the general education teacher as well as the special education teacher to work together to determine what will best fit the needs of an individual child.
Some extensions of use with the Calm Cart might be able to pinpoint certain behaviors found within children. If a teacher wishes to document each time a child is using the Calm Cart, they might find a pattern determining what time of day is that particular student’s most hectic or upsetting time.