Helping Special Needs Students Succeed with 3D Design, 3D Printing & Makers Empire

Jackson School in Melbourne, Australia, provides an excellent specialised curriculum for 5-18YO students with special needs. We know that regular classroom teachers in Australia and America have had great learning success using Makers Empire with their special needs students so we were very interested to see how the Jackson School students and teachers found learning with Makers Empire.

Jackson School was one of eight schools who took part in a pioneering STEM project last year funded by a grant from the Toyota Community Trust and with professional learning, 3D design software and resources provided by Makers Empire. The other schools involved were Jackson School, St Alban’s Heights Primary School, St Margaret’s Primary School, Exford Primary School, St Therese’s School, Westgrove Primary School, Williamstown Primary School and Catholic Regional College St Albans.

The West Melbourne 3D Printing in Schools Project worked towards the goals of the National STEM School Education Strategy 2016-2026 by:

  • engaging students in exciting, challenging STEM learning that is connected to their real-world experiences;
  • helping teachers to develop pedagogical approaches that enable students to combine STEM knowledge with critical, creative and design thinking; and
  • building teacher capacity as mentors in their own and other sites.

To achieve the project goals, over term three and four in 2019, project participants undertook Makers Empire’s Learning by Design course, which is backed by Macquarie University research.

Two of Jackson School’s teachers — Phillip Haig and Sean Gales — were selected to represent Jackson School in the project and to introduce Makers Empire to their students.

We asked Sean and Phillip to record their observations of the students who took part in the Makers Empire project. Here are the highlights of their completed survey:


91% of special needs students displayed above average level of creativity and effort using Makers Empire


100% of special needs students displayed significantly above average level of creativity and effort in their designs 


82% of special needs students displayed significantly above average level of achievement in the quality of their work

Observations from the Jackson School teachers:

  • Students enjoy the creativity and collaboration aspects of Makers Empire – “They like the creativity they have with the range of different shapes and objects at their disposal. They also like the Game Zone section where they can share their mazes to others.”
  • Challenges to the learning – “Initially, they found it challenging identifying features of the app, but once familiar, they worked confidently… (what) our students struggled with the most was they would rush the Design Thinking process and get straight into printing. It took a while for them to fully understand the process.”

Recommendations for Teaching Special Needs Students

  • Create tasks aligned to interests to increase engagement – “Creating tasks that were relevant to the student’s interests enhanced the student engagement. Students even went home and would play mazes. Students were very focused on the task as they had activities that were interest-based.”
  • Use Makers Empire to teach spatial reasoning and Maths – “Students learnt about spatial awareness, measurement, shape and sharing. Students did a great job.”
  • Use Makers Empire to boost student confidence in literacy – “Incorporating Makers Empire into a reading session helped students who lacked confidence reading.”
  • Use Makers Empire to encourage teamwork and student’s confidence in themselves – “Students also improved their ability to work as a team and showed a sense of pride in their work.”
  • Consider using QR codes for quicker sign-in to Makers Empire – “I think having QR codes on the individual sign-in cards could be very beneficial for our students.”

At the end of the two-term project, a showcase day was held for all the schools to come together and share their learning. Prizes were awarded for exceptional student learning and as it turned out, the Jackson School students won a 3D printer for their school’s great school garden herb marker project.

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This validation of their learning was really well received.

“Winning a prize in the showcase and having seen our students (who have an intellectual disability) confidently present and share their project was a MAJOR success,” the teachers commented.

“Our students love using it and I will continue to (use) Makers Empire in all aspects of our learning.”

Makers Empire’s complete solutions for schools contain everything you need to teach Design Thinking, STEM and 21st-century learning skills with 3D design and 3D printing. Our pioneering 3D solutions for schools include 3D modelling software, over 150 lesson plans aligned with international standards and professional development. With Makers Empire, engaged students learn how to solve real-world problems and make their world better.

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