BAES STEAM Class Learns by Building, Giving and Improving Lives
Posted on 03/04/2021

In Matthew Nauman’s STEAM class at Bill Arp Elementary School, students are learning a lot more than engineering concepts. They take those concepts and build devices that serve others. They learn about fundraising so they can afford materials. And most importantly, they learn about the joy that comes from giving to others.

Several years ago, Mr. Nauman heard about the GoBabyGo program started by the University of Delaware. The university provides designs and guidance for organizations wanting to build low cost powered mobility devices for children. An off-the-shelf ride-on toy car, such as a Power Wheels Wild Thing, along with a bit of ingenuity and hands-on work, becomes a personalized therapy tool and a really fun ride for children with mobility limitations! Power wheelchairs are often too expensive or are not covered by insurance for children who outgrow them quickly, leaving children waiting on someone to push them where they want to go.

Mr. Nauman and his 5th grade students converted their first Power Wheels Wild Thing two years ago for Maddie, a Bill Arp student at the time who uses the vehicle now at Mason Creek Middle School. After seeing Maddie with her vehicle, his 2019-2020 students wanted to build more. They asked other schools if there was a need and received requests from two different schools. The 5th graders organized a fundraiser and began ordering parts, but were interrupted by the Coronavirus quarantine. “In spite of this, students still joined in live Meets (virtual classrooms), shared their ideas and drawings, and remotely helped me build two powered wheelchairs,” said Mr. Nauman. Mr. Nauman’s current 5th graders got to be part of the two latest builds by testing and modifying the vehicles so they functioned appropriately for each recipient’s specific requirements.

“It feels great when we deliver the finished product,” said Mr. Nauman, “especially when a child who normally moves only under the control of an adult pushing their chair, suddenly gets to decide when and where to go. The students at our school really light up when they see their classmate riding around giggling in something they made with their own hands, or see pictures and videos of the deliveries. I love seeing them feel proud of helping someone else, and learning that these complex problems like designing a mobility device for a child, can be broken down into smaller parts, researched, and made possible by them.” 

One of the cars was delivered to Paris at Chapel Hill Elementary School. “Paris was thrilled to operate the vehicle all on her own,” said Kandice Vaughn, Special Education teacher at Chapel Hill. “Her teachers are so grateful for the hard work of the STEAM class. Paris will enjoy her vehicle for many years to come!”

In addition to the cars, Mr. Nauman and his students have made several prosthetic limbs for adults and children. Mr. Nauman was recently connected with a family of two adopted children who are missing  arms. He and his students are designing motorized prosthetic limbs for them right now and hope to deliver the devices soon. Two more cars are also in the works for kids at two different schools!

Opening the Power Wheels Wild Thing!

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Making early modifications.

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Seats have been added to the Power Wheels bases.

Finley from Mirror Lake Elementary School has a tricked out Monsters, Inc. ride! With her and fellow students who also enjoy the car are LEAP teacher and Finley's mom Courtney Hutchins, Mr. Nauman and parapro Alyssa Rowe (kneeling).

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Maddie's car has a joystick for easy control, a padded seat, seat belts, protective roll bars, and a very cute Minnie Mouse motif! Paris is in the driver's seat and joined by Mr. Nauman and Ms. Vaughn.

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