RAFT, Stanford class partner to create special needs math kit

Aug. 11, 2011, 2:01 a.m.

A joint initiative between Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT) and students in Stanford’s “Perspectives in Assistive Technology

RAFT, Stanford class partner to create special needs math kit
(SERENITY NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

” class has resulted in a prototype for a math kit designed for students with special needs.

The class explores in depth the process of creating technology that benefits people with special needs. The math kit is one of four team and three individual projects from the class.

The kit, like other class projects, followed the design process: recognizing need, forming a project proposal, developing a design concept, creating a prototype, testing the project idea and finally and reporting the results.

“Team members interact with users of assistive technology in the local community as well as design coaches and project partners,” said David Jaffe, a lecturer in mechanical engineering design and the course instructor. “For many students, this is the first time they have had a chance to apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired from their engineering courses.”

Three students–Zach D’Angelo ’11, Shilpa Sarkar ’11 and John Thiemer ’12–partnered with RAFT to develop the interactive math kit for kids with special needs. Featuring a large foam die, the “Math Blast” kit will provide students with a hands-on opportunity to expand their knowledge through an array of math games.

“[The kit] deals with a lot of counting skills, involves various stimulations and develops hand-eye coordination to help [those with special needs] learn to manipulate things in a way that helps teach them to understand their mathematics,” Thiemer said.

According to Greg Brown, director of education at RAFT, the students have fostered an enduring idea for the future of the company.

“What [the students] have developed will be useful in a whole bunch of different applications for many, many kids,” he said. “Our goal is to help educators of all kinds.”

The price of the kits ranges from $3 to $5 for students from first through eighth grade.

“Here at RAFT, kits use commonly used materials that are readily available…so that helps us keep the costs very low,” Brown said.

“In kits like these, the foam is actually donated to RAFT, so the cost for the materials is virtually nothing…however, we still have to assemble the kits, so there is a cost,” he added.

The interactive, hands-on nature of the project allows students to meld their knowledge and creativity and come up with ideas transcending the ordinary.

“It was very interesting and inspiring to work with the students…what was very gratifying was how interested they were in learning from the teachers and learning from the kit,” Brown said. “They didn’t see it as just a design project…for them, it became a chance to help real people with real problems.”

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