Vilonia High School teacher motivating special students with a technology driven learning opportunity

Some “very important learners are obtaining new Innovative abilities” at Vilonia High School using technology, according to special needs teacher Dr. David Battles. The students are in the start-up phase of a business making mascot items for ball teams using the two Idea Builder 3D printers awarded to them, in December, by the Dremel company.

These students are academically low-functioning students who are studying biology, science and math in the classroom being taught by Battles.

The students, Battles said, are making plans to set up at ballgames using their 3D printers to not only produce Eagle mascot items, such as keychains, earrings, cellphone covers and refrigerator magnets, but the mascot items of their opposing teams and offer them for sale at a reasonable cost. As well, the students will demonstrate their technical abilities, at the games, by making some of the items on site.  The school, Battles said, is providing them two computers also for the project.  They are currently researching the teams that Vilonia will play next year, contacting the schools and learning about the school’s mascot. The students are also learning about copyright rules and business etiquette.  

If all goes as Battles expects, he said, they may reach out to colleges and expand their opportunities in the near future.

Some of these students may have trouble tying their shoes, Battles said, but they are excited and excelling with their new adventure. Battles said he doesn’t care if the students make a penny.  It’s all about taking the students to a new level. It’s possible, he said, some of these students may be able to hold jobs as designers one of these days.

“Get it,” Battles offered. “It makes sense. We are playing into technology to teach them.”

He made reference to two-year-old children who can use cellular phones to take photos and play games.  By the time they are six, he said, their parents are turning to them to learn how to use technology. He referred to it as “hidden curriculum.”

Teaching, Battles said, is like fishing.

“You find the right bait, throw it out there and reel them in,” Battles said.

That right bait, Battles said, for special needs kids is technology. “It only makes sense. You can see it. These kids are now hooked to learn.”

In the business market, the students will be learning and practicing social and lifestyles skills as well as math.

Battles had already asked permission to purchase one printer. He saw the benefit after taking his students down the hall from his classroom to an advanced classroom where students there use a 3D printer in their studies.  This week, he learned he will be getting two and they will be provided by Dremel.  Battles entered an essay in the LearnMakeGive Contest explaining the plans for the project. Chosen through public voting, Vilonia High School was one of 50 schools to receive the printers across the U.S. and the only Arkansas school to win.

The printers will also be used in class where students will print out 3D plastic, realistic looking hearts, femur bones and other body parts. This will require the students, Battles said, to also “think on three levels.”

Battles has been teaching in the special education field for 27 years. This is his first year at Vilonia. Not only did Vilonia chose him, he said, as a teacher, he also chose Vilonia. Battles retired a few years ago. He has taught in Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.  He decided to come out of retirement, he joked, to keep his wife’s “to-do” list to a minimum. He said he substitute taught in several districts prior to finding a place to suit his style. The administration in Vilonia, he said, from the top job to the bottom understand special needs children. The Vilonia School District, he said, is “three steps ahead of the game” when it comes to special education.

 “We are leaders,” he said. “Vilonia takes care of their kids. They also take care of the kids’ families.”

Self-described, he said, he teaches outside the box.  He is passionate about his job and his humor is evident to those who work with him.  His first act is to get to know his students and their families. Also, he wants them to know his family. He has photos of his wife, children and dogs on his walls. The dogs are sporting mustaches made with the 3D printer. As well, he has a photo of an ultrasound on his wall. His students are counting down the days until he becomes a grandfather.

“If I know them, I know when they are giving me their best effort,” he said. It is his job, he said, to put to bed any “learned hopelessness.” He believes that everyone is teachable with the right lure and motivation.  

As a special education teacher, he said, he wants his students to have the opportunity to do everything their peers do and he will do everything in his power to make it work.  

“No one wants to fail. It is my job to set up my kids where they win,” he concluded. “As long as I can do that, I am happy.”