Wenatchee Magnet Wall Draws Students Together

At the end of each day at Wenatchee High School a small group of Special Education students wait at the back door for their bus. They arrive early to avoid the crowded hallways.

Wenatchee magnet

Special Education teacher Kelly Sims watches her students use the magnet wall. “They love any kind of tactile, sensory activities,” she said

In a classroom near that back door pre-engineering students in Doug Merrill’s AutoCad class brainstorm a project in which their design skills will result in a real-world product. Mr. Merrill recalled conference session he had attended that focused on industrial technology students helping serve special education students. He also remembered something he had seen years before on a family trip. A magnet wall.

“I got the idea from a children’s museum in Baltimore,” he says. “It’s like a puzzle that lets you set up a big, long, maze,” said Mr. Merrill. “It’s new every day.”

The portable wall, made of framed-in sheet metal, is designed to hold magnetized objects that can arranged into a puzzle, a pinball machine or a roller coaster. Tennis balls are dropped into any of a number of starting points to roll down through the separate pieces of the maze.

AutoCad students Richie Stickle, Connor Hasse, Grant Carroll, Sophie Castillo, Sam Unker, Liv Kenck and Kyle Bowman teamed up to build the wall. They framed in two large pieces of sheet metal, added wheels for portability, then took different sizes, shapes and types of PVC pipe and cut them into chunks. Next they attached magnets to the chunks.

“The hardest part was getting magnets to stick to the PVC,” said Sophie Castillo, who explained that the magnetic pull to the wall was so strong the magnets broke free of the PVC piece. The students ended up both screwing and gluing the magnets to make the connection strong enough.

Next they put the pieces together into a design.  “The track is whatever you make it,” said Grant Carroll.

Then the day arrived to introduce the wall to students in Kelly Sims’ Special Education Class. Mr. Merrill gave the kids a pep talk. “If you’re excited, they’ll be excited,” he said.

The kids rolled the wall out into the hallway where Sims’ students waited. Richie Stickle gave a brief explanation, then dropped the first tennis ball into the maze. The special education kids were hesitant at first, but, with the help and encouragement from Richie, Connor, Grant, and Sophie, quickly got the hang of placing tennis balls into the pipes to see how far it would roll through the maze.

“They love any kind of tactile, sensory activities,” said teacher Kelly Sims. “The wall is nice because they can switch it up, they can change heights and complexity. All levels can do it.”

The magnet wall can be seen at the back door of the high school most afternoons near 3:00 PM, with a small group of students absorbed in making new designs and trying them out.

“Yes, it’s fun to build something,” said Mr. Merrill. “But at the same time my students were able to connect students they normally wouldn’t have in class, and to do something for them that they might not be able to do for themselves.”

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