Teen Finds Ways to Give Back Through Mentorship at Small Factory Productions

Teen Finds Ways to Give Back Through Mentorship at Small Factory Productions

At just 17 years old and entering into his senior year at Freehold Township High School, Matthew Grieco was watching the news one day and saw students at Rice University building a mechanical arm out of 3D printed parts. The students were later going to donate the arm that they had made to a person who was missing a hand. From that moment on, Matthew was intrigued and inspired to create the change that he saw on his television.

“I had always been fascinated by 3D printers, but now I could build something and then donate it to help someone else,” Matthew said. “I am always thinking of how to give back to the community, and this was a perfect way to couple that with my passion for engineering and my curiosity with 3D printing.”

Matthew instantly picked up the phone and started making calls to people and places that would allow him to use their 3D printer to print the parts he needed to start building his own mechanical arm. At first, he didn’t have much luck, but after one specific phone call, his project was set into action. Matthew talked to Chris Dudick, the owner of Small Factory Productions, who was excited about his ideas and eager to help him.

“Chris allowed me to come in and use Small Factory’s 3D printer to facilitate the printing part of the assembly of my 3D hand,” Matthew said.

Matthew’s journey into engineering did not start here however. Since he was a child, he was always interested in building things, from Legos to K’nex to erector sets. As he got older, he loved helping his dad with projects around the house, like assembling things from IKEA and even helping to build the shed in their backyard. But when he found out about the 3D printed mechanical arm, he knew he had to do it.

“I knew that building the arm would be a nice personal challenge to see if I could do it all by myself,” Matthew said.

He kicked his project into gear by first finding the files for the parts that he would need to print. Along with the 3D printed parts, there were other materials, such as screws and finishing line that he needed to purchase. Once the parts were printed, he sanded and filed them down so that they would move correctly. Things did not go smoothly though, as some parts ended up breaking in the process. Matthew realized, however, that although there was not much room for error, he is not perfect and this was his first time building something like this. Practice makes perfect.

After correcting his errors, he began assembling the pieces. Of course there were no instructions, so Matthew relied on YouTube videos to help him. As he continued, it became easier to assemble, but he reached an obstacle when a part that he needed was missing.

“I knew I’d have to improvise and I started thinking. I went to my dad’s workbench and started to think about what I could use to make it work and it hit me,” he said. Despite some minor setbacks, Matthew persevered and did not let the adversities and obstacles get the best of him. The entire process of building his mechanical arm ended up taking about 22 hours in total, and aside for some help with the 3D printer from his mentor at Small Factory, Joe, Matthew had no help assembling the hand.

Although Matthew was driven by his passion for engineering and curiosity of 3D printing, it was the aspect of giving back that really inspired him.

“There is no better gift than the gift of helping someone in need,” he said. “This is rooted in me because of an experience I had as a child.”

When Matthew was just 5 years old, he was in a car accident that broke his neck. Doctors told his family that he should have been paralyzed, and it was a miracle that he lived and is able to move today. When he was recovering, he had to wear a bulky halo that was screwed around his head and secured by a vest that he wore around his torso.

“Knowing the pain and humiliating stares I got from strangers, and knowing that there was nothing I could do about it, I wanted to help a child in my position,” he said. “Making this hand has given me the same feeling because now a child does not have to get stared at or asked awkward questions by people who do not understand his/ her condition. I am very privileged, and it feels great to help someone who is not as fortunate as I have been. “

Matthew came to Small Factory primarily to build his mechanical arm, but because of his successes, he will now continue his journey and relationship by serving as a mentor to other children.

“I will be there when a child does not know what to do and I will help to show them the right direction, but still have them do it by themself,” he said.

Matthew finds it important to guide children rather than completing the task for them so that they can do it on their own. “I will be helping children build and create the same way my father helped me build when I was younger.”

Having Joe as mentor enabled Matthew to learn, gain confidence in what he was doing, and ultimately help someone else. Chris is also allowing and encouraging Matthew to make more hands to donate, and he has already started the computer work on the next one. He is hoping to donate many over the next year.

“I am very grateful that Chris, Joe and the entire Small Factory Productions team was so eager and helpful. Without them and their support I have no doubt in my mind that I would not have accomplished what I have and would not be capable of helping those in need, and for that I am forever appreciative.”

For more information on opportunities at Small Factory click here.

New Small Factory Membership Program Offers More Learning Opportunities

New Small Factory Membership Program Offers More Learning Opportunities

At Small Factory, a new school year means we’re in full swing with new classes, and even a new membership program! The membership program is back in action after some revamping, and is a great way for students to explore different medias and technologies while giving them access to today’s best software and technology programs.

05-RobticsGirl“This year, there’s going to be a ton of different projects and things that kids can work on weekly,” said Chris Dudick, owner of Small Factory. “They’ll definitely be able to figure out if they’re more the engineering type, the art type, or the coding type. Kids will have the chance to experience all types of projects that we offer to figure out what they really want to learn about and go into with more depth.”

Small Factory’s new program is introducing a Proprietary Online E-Learning Portal with a rewards-based point system, five weekly STEAM-based projects, parental notification of completed projects, student journals and at-home use so students can log in at home and continue the work they started at Small Factory.

“There were a lot of things we learned from the first year, and access to many 03VideoGamedifferent projects at the same time is something we want to offer,” said Dudick. “We also realized that a point system and parent notification are all things that were interesting to our members last year, and we were able to develop an online platform that would give kids access to all the different things that we’re doing in the studio, but that they would also be able to do it at home as well.”

Small Factory is always encouraging kids to explore passions and find new ways to learn.

“If you’re an athlete, you have baseball season or basketball season, but if you’re into tech and media, there’s no season for that. Kids need access to all of these things to grow and learn, and that’s what we give them,” said Dudick.

The membership program will give students access to STEAM-based projects and classes after school at the two campuses — Fair Haven and Manalapan. Teaching projects will be based around coding, art and engineering.

Classes start the week of September 12, and will run Monday through Friday from 4:15 to 5:30 p.m.

Small Factory Productions MembershipThe membership program is still the same low price of $50 per month, with a $20 drop-in fee for non-members. Small Factory will be offering students a chance to sign up for a free three-week trial from Sept. 12 to Sept. 30, five days a week from 4:15 to 5:30 p.m.

The first 50 (25 in Fair Haven and 25 in Manalapan) students to email smallfactory@mysmallfactory.com will get a free trial membership. Please be sure to specify which location you are interested in.

Other classes being offered this fall include 3D Printing, 3D Video Game Animation, App Making, Minecraft Programming, Voice Acting and more. To see a preview of the fall schedule, click here.

Small Factory Classes presented by VI at Bell Works

Small Factory Classes presented by VI at Bell Works

Video Game and Animation

pc buildingVideo Game Design:

In this class students learn the basics and fundamentals of game making while creating a fun platform style game. Students learn to make sprite and how to convert them into objects to program them. They program their characters to move around, jump and crush bad guys. One the foundation of their game has been established, they expand on it by making power ups and multiple levels of increasing difficulty. Once the class is over, students games will be upload to our website where they will be able to access and play their games.

Wednesdays (8/3, 8/10, 8/17 & 8/24)
4:15 – 5:30 (ages 6+) REGISTER
5:45 – 7:00 (ages 8+) REGISTER

animation edit 640x480Animation:

Students will explore the basics of animation production. The basic techniques of setting up a character, using frames, tweening and onion skin will be learned. The final product will be a basic animation created entirely by the student.

Wednesdays (8/3, 8/10, 8/17 & 8/24)
4:15 – 5:30 (ages 6+) REGISTER
5:45 – 7:00 (ages 8+) REGISTER

*USE PROMO CODE VI15 to receive a 15% off discount!*

Location: Bell Works
101 Crawfords Corner
Holmdel, NJ 07733


Practical Learning at Small Factory Prepares Kids for Real World

Practical Learning at Small Factory Prepares Kids for Real World

Kids at Small Factory are learning practical skills that will help them prepare for the real world. Andon M., Matthew S., and Hannah B. developed a website for Umberto’s Pizzeria in Fair Haven, NJ and put their Small Factory learning to use.

The pizza restaurant knew they needed a new website, so they decided to give the 12 year olds in the Small Factory Web Programming class the opportunity to test their coding and design skills.

“Our website was five years old and we are making some updates and changes to the restaurant so we knew we needed a fresh site,” said Mary Fabbri, owner of Umberto’s Pizzeria.

Eric Whitehead, a teacher at Small Factory, wanted to give his students a chance at a more practical application for their HTML, CSS, JavaScript and other website design skills. web_prog2

“I wanted to have more of a practical application so they felt they really built something significant,” said Eric.

Eric is a self-taught web designer who built his first site in 1998. He has a degree in teaching, but after he graduated he wanted to pursue a career in IT/web development. Teaching at Small Factory lets him blend the two things he enjoys the most.

“I can really relate to these kids because they have the same interest I had almost 20 years,” said Eric.

Eric developed most of the bare bones template for Umberto’s new site. The students then added their own ideas and code on top of that. All graphics were created in the class by the students. Special features like the photos section, the Yelp, Facebook and Google Maps API integration were all done by the students.

“It’s amazing what these kids can do,” said Mary. “They came up with so many creative ideas that we hadn’t even thought of!”

Students used Sublime Text as their code editor and Firefox and Firebug to work through issues. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator were used for all graphics, and images were provided by Umberto’s. All photo editing was done by the students.

Umberto’s has been in business since 1984 and is run by the Fabbri family. The new website isn’t live yet, but once their current domain is transferred it will be ready for business, and Andon, Matthew and Hannah will have their first addition to their resumes.

After all, “the best way to learn is by doing,” said Eric.

“We couldn’t be happier,” said Mary. “They have such a fresh eye and they are so creative.”

Small Factory Web Programming students are available for website design for local businesses. If your business is interested, contact Small Factory at 732-212-1088.

Parents, interested in giving your children the practical skills needed to solve everyday problems? Sign them up for the many Small Factory classes that help teach life skills, including Web Programming, Video Game Design, Robotics and Engineering, Film and Video and Theater. Find out more here.

TEDxNavesink Provides Platform to Introduce Social Skills Software

TEDxNavesink Provides Platform to Introduce Social Skills Software

On a stage in front of 750 people, Chris Dudick and Bernadette Mullen brought their passion to life. Through the stories of parents with children who struggle to understand how to act and respond in social situations, the two educators demonstrated their software program aimed at making children feel more comfortable expressing emotions, communicating feelings, and talking about things that are difficult for them.

SiLAS, Socially Interactive Learning Avatar Software, is a software developed by Chris and using the curriculum Bernadette wrote that allows kids with social learning challenges to understand social skills through a curriculum-based learning program. The curriculum Bernadette developed was driven by her years of experience working as a speech-language pathologist. SiLAS uses video game controllers and headset microphones to control 2D cartoon avatars that have the ability to express emotions.

Chris and Bernadette demonstrated how SiLAS works at the annual TEDxNavesink conference. Their talk, “Autism, Avatars, and Alleviating Social Disorders,” took the audience deep into the world of social skills education and what it might be like to be a parent to a special learner.

“Having TEDxNavesink as a platform to spread the word about SiLAS really helped solidify our story — how and why it started,” said Chris. “Anytime that you can reflect back on why you started something and what you’re doing it’s a nice thing.”

TEDxNavesink, an independently-organized TED conference, was held April 9 at Monmouth University. The conference featured innovators and makers from across the country sharing their inspirations and passions.

“I wanted the audience to understand that there are organizations that can provide social skills training to children struggling with social skills learning,” said Bernadette. “There are new and innovative things coming out every day that can motivate a child to learn and use those social skills in real settings. You have to find the things that motivate your child the most and get them excited to learn.”

The pair opened their talk by quoting real fears and concerns of parents whose children are on the autism spectrum or have problems learning social skills. Hopelessness, concern about a lack of friends, expense of therapy, and experiencing marital issues as a result of raising a child with autism were all topics that parents of children with autism struggle with. The opening was relatable and touching, and by following the introduction with an actual demonstration of how SiLAS works using avatars, Chris and Bernadette’s talk became one of the most powerful of the TEDxNavesink conference.

“From our talk the audience could really grasp what kinds of things are happening in the field of autism education,” said Bernadette. “We’re teaching them so many things but we’re not teaching them how to take what they’ve learned and use those skills in the real world. I think for the audience our message was clear. We need to come up with new and exciting ways to teach social skills to kids with autism.”

Chris and Bernadette discussed how to introduce social skills learning to a new generation of tech-loving children. Their answer with SiLAS is to use that technology to their advantage and have the children become avatars. Students can practice new skills that may be difficult for them in reality in a virtual world where they feel more comfortable. The software records their skit and saves it as a movie file the student can watch and learn from again.

“We wanted to show people that there is technology out there that can help and be used in a social way for children on the spectrum,” said Chris. “There are tons of apps and programs where kids are very passive in their learning — old school books and curriculum — but that’s not connecting anymore. When you’re raised with a cell phone and a video game controller in your hands that’s how you learn and teaching has to adapt to that.”

The response from the TEDxNavesink talk has been tremendous. Both on a professional and personal level for Chris and Bernadette.

“Speaking at TEDxNavesink was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done,” said Bernadette. “The entire group has a desire to help other people present the best talk they can. I have learned so much about other people. I’ve learned things that are helping me professionally and privately that I wasn’t even looking for when I did this.

Chris and Bernadette have gotten SiLAS into a dozen schools and are participating in two different studies over the summer to help SiLAS gain momentum, including a study with researchers at Princeton University.

“We’re working on finding partnerships and alliances to help us get into schools,” said Chris.

Watch Chris and Bernadette’s TEDxNavesink video here.

For more information about SiLAS, visit http://silassolutions.com/.