Papillion elementary students use 3D printing to help an injured animal

Published: Feb. 11, 2022 at 4:46 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - If you’re searching for a heartwarming story, you’re in the right place!

A group of third, fourth, and fifth-grade students from Prairie Queen Elementary School in Papillion is using STEM to learn valuable lessons about supporting their local community and helping wildlife.

The school’s 3D printing club is giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘cool science projects’ and if you asked fifth-grader Ryder Brockman, he’d agree.

“Normally we’re just making things for teachers, but this time it’s to help an animal survive,” said Brockman, referring to the club’s current task - building a 3D wheelchair for an injured tortoise.

The students are already familiar with 3D printing so this is a welcomed challenge said fifth-grade teacher Laura Smith.

Smith is one of the club’s sponsors and explained that students “created things like door stops, remote holders or a homework tray for a speech therapist’s door.” Smith refers to it as 3D printing with a purpose.

Now, the group of next-generation science and tech geniuses can take that expertise to help the turtle, affectionately named ‘Shelly’.

Last week they began the process by hosting the educational nonprofit Wildlife Encounters, the group that brought the red-footed tortoise who has trouble walking.

They spent their first meeting measuring the tortoise so that they can create cardboard/paper prototypes of their designs before printing.

Fourth-grader Ashton Halgerson and his buddy Bryce Ward helped lead the way, drawing sketches and combining ideas.

During their time working with Wildlife Encounters, the organization explained to students the designs should measure no more than one inch off the ground and allow the tortoise to use both front and back legs freely.

The wheel system should be removable to adjust to the tortoise’s needs and the mechanism should be able to handle terrains like dirt and other substrates.

Wildlife Encounters initiated the opportunity by making an open request to area schools, stating that Shelly has been participating in swimming therapy and physical therapy to increase strength.

With the help of a wheeled cart system, Shell will ultimately be able to lower the tortoise to move more freely while continuing to strengthen her legs.

The club uses interactive digital software that lets them continue making mock designs from home to ensure the final product is perfect, something their teacher and additional club sponsor, Stacey Muller says makes her incredibly proud.

“Their immediate reaction was let’s make this; let’s fix her! This really enforces how much they can do in the community,” said Muller.

Over the next few weeks - once the designs are printed - the club may team back up with Wildlife Encounters to troubleshoot the design and make any adjustments.

Prairie Queen Elementary purchased the 3D printer from a grant through the PLCS Foundation.

This opportunity is one way that the printer benefits not only PLCS schools, but the larger community too!

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