3D ThinkLink Initiative Expands to Reach Teens With Autism

3D ThinkLink students and instructors at PHILLIPS School in Annandale, Virginia, June 10, 2016.

YouthQuest’s 3D ThinkLink project at the PHILLIPS School in Annandale, Virginia, is off to an impressive start.

Six students have completed our 3D design and printing course as part of the Career and Tech Education program at the school for special-needs children. YouthQuest provided the curriculum, equipment, software and teacher training.

Henry Spiegelblatt runs a 3D printer in YouthQuest's 3D ThinkLink class at the PHILLIPS School in Annandale, Virginia
Henry Spiegelblatt runs a 3D printer

“We’ve hit on something here that has great potential,” Piper Phillips Caswell, President and CEO of PHILLIPS Programs for Children and Families, said during an event honoring the students on June 10.

YouthQuest and PHILLIPS teamed up early this year to launch the first 3D ThinkLink class specifically for high-school-age students with high-spectrum autism. Previously, YouthQuest’s signature STEM education program primarily served at-risk teens enrolled in National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academies.

“It was mind-blowing to see something on the computer and then see it printed out on the 3D printer,” said PHILLIPS student Elijah Burton.

“It’s just really fun to design things,” added his classmate, Henry Spiegelblatt.

YouthQuest Director of Instruction Tom Meeks, who developed the curriculum and trained the teachers, was “blown away” by the results of the pilot program at PHILLIPS.

Luke McHugh, left, and Adam Eldert work on a 3D design in YouthQiest's 3D ThinkLink class at the PHILLIPS School in Annandale, Virginia
Luke McHugh, left, and Adam Eldert work on a 3D design in Moment of Inspiration

“In four years of teaching 3D ThinkLink classes, I don’t think I’ve seen students create designs more complex than what I’ve seen here. I am super impressed,” he said.

“One of the reasons I enjoy coming to 3D printing is that I already have the ideas that I want to put down. I’ve always had these designs that I wanted to implement,” explained Adam Eldert, whose creations included a colorful spaceship. “However, until recently, I lacked the means and the resources to actually make them reality. Now, I possess both.”

Luke McHugh quickly mastered the Moment of Inspiration design software, using it as a tool for creative expression.

“I can exercise my ideas in a virtual environment where I can literally build them and then modify them without having to take the whole thing apart,” said Luke.

Adam Eldert's spaceship design created with Moment of Inspiration software in YouthQuest's 3D ThinkLink class at the PHILLIPS School in Annandale, Virginia
Adam Eldert’s spaceship design

Knowing how to use a 3D printer and serious CAD (computer-aided design) software such as Moment of Inspiration can be valuable for the students are they prepare to enter the working world. The PHILLIPS program is also designed to teach “soft job skills” such as problem solving.

The goal, as PHILLIPS Program Supervisor Lindsay Harris put it, is “to develop confidence as well as competence.”

With an emphasis on critical thinking, learning from mistakes and step-by-step improvement, our 3D ThinkLink training helps students achieve that goal.

Marcel Baynes, Tom Meeks, Jim Field and Sam Son at YouthQuest's 3D ThinkLink teacher training in January, 2016
Marcel Baynes, Tom Meeks, Jim Field and Sam Son at teacher training

“I’ve seen an increase in their resiliency. They’re not afraid to fail,” said Sam Son, lead teacher for the Designing Futures Program at PHILLIPS.  “Whenever they do see the mistakes, they want to go back into the program – Moment of Inspiration – to make sure they find out exactly where it’s wrong and tweak it, because failure is not final and they want that final product to be exactly what they want.”

He described one student who had “always felt left out” because she was constantly being compared to her sister, who’s in gifted and talented classes.

“For her to actually be working with 3D printers and designers that people at the university are working with, it brings out a lot in her and the confidence has skyrocketed recently,” Sam said.

Much of the credit for this pilot project’s success goes to Sam and his fellow PHILLIPS instructors Jim Field and Marcel Baynes, who attended a week of training in YouthQuest’s 3D ThinkLink Creativity Lab in January and spent many more days in and out of class learning to use the 3D printers and software.


Congratulations to the First 3D ThinkLink Class at the PHILLIPS School

Elijah Burton
Adam Eldert
Ida Kahsay
Luke McHugh
Deja Semper
Henry Spiegelblatt

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