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The Skills Vest

School: NuVu: The Innovation School

City/State: Cambridge, MA

Grade(s): 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Format(s): Device

Subject(s): Health and Wellness, Science and Technology

Project Overview

Students studied challenges people with Cerebral Palsy face—specifically, how people with Cerebral Palsy have trouble controlling/practicing their fine motor skills. Because of this, everyday clothing that contains zippers and buttons are difficult to put on. Changing clothing can be an annoying and anxious time for kids with Cerebral Palsy; students wanted kids to have a fun way to practice getting dressed. They boiled down the skills involved with zippers and buttons and came up with games that would allow kids to practice these skills. This vest not only allows kids to practice the basic motions behind zippers and buttons but is also naturally fun and entertaining. The skills involved in using zippers and buttons are pulling, pinching, holding (two hands), and slipping through a small opening. The games associated with each skill vary from spinners to levers to fill-in-hole matching toys. Every toy on the vest has a specific purpose.

Many pieces of clothing made for someone with CP are adaptive and simplify the process of getting dressed and undressed, but the Skills Vest teaches the kids to possibly be able to use the zippers and buttons on everyday clothing. This eliminates the purchase of an entire adaptive wardrobe.

Students expanded on this project for two weeks and transformed the vest. They delved into occupational therapy and why therapists recommend certain toys for children. After studying these toys and understanding their different therapeutic uses, students incorporated the existing toys into their vest. Students then gave the vest an age appropriate theme (Farm) and reinvented toys to farm animals. The vest is special because it can be individualized to each child wearing it. Since the toys are attachable and detachable, toys can be placed wherever is most convenient and beneficial for the child. Along with this feature, the vest can also be individualized by levels of games. If a child masters the beginner games, they can "move up" a level and attempt something more advanced. The Skills Vest project was the Student Winner of the Design for Social Impact Award from Core77 Design Awards 2016.

At NuVu, an innovation school in Cambridge, MA, middle and high school students learn in an open and flexible space that is more akin to an architecture studio than a classroom. Some students attend NuVu for a two-week intensive and for others it is their full-time high school.

Instead of one-hour classes and separate subjects, students engage in solving a problem through multi-disciplinary learning, all day, for two weeks. Groups of twelve students collaborate on the creative process, with expert guidance from two coaches who have expertise in a related field. Throughout the process, students conduct precedent research, engage in brainstorming, render drafts of their ideas, create prototypes and write and reflect on their findings and processes. Their work is captured in a portfolio along with documentation of the final products they debut at the end of each studio session. These portfolios are publically viewable on NuVu’s website.


How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Beautiful in conception and execution, this project answered a practical need while taking fun, joy, and age appropriate learning into account
  • A wonderful example of an authentic product with well documented field testing.
  • A wonderful model of empowering students to make a difference through STEM
  • Exemplary model of students designing in response to a specific challenge, using critique and descriptive feedback to refine a product to a level of high quality
  • Beautiful example of iteration in the design process as evidenced by thorough documentation
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