Problem-based Learning – Building Chairs for Students with Autism

Posted on Categories Individuals with Disabilities, Instruction, Project-based Learning, Special Populations

At a Glance

Students in Lehigh Career and Technical Institute’s (LCTI) service occupations cluster (SOC) building trades maintenance program and students in the mechatronics program collaborated with the Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit on a problem-based learning project- to design and build a better classroom chair for students with autism.


During the 2018-2019 school year, the Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit (CLIU) reached out to instructor John Wynn in the SOC Building Trades Maintenance program at LCTI to propose a project for students: Design and then build a chair to meet the needs of students with autism. The project provided a real-world learning opportunity for students to apply their technical skills.

To meet the needs of the students for whom the chairs were being built, the LCTI building trades maintenance students considered and implemented several specific design details. They built the chairs out of solid oak so that the chairs would last for a long time. They designed a base platform attached to the chair to prevent the chairs from flipping over.

Before the chairs were assembled, students in the mechatronics program designed the armrests and backs of the chairs. They created a design and used the laser printer to put the design into the wood. They engraved the armrests with a sensory checkerboard design so that the students using them could trace the design with their fingers. For aesthetics, they put an “ABC” and shape design on the backs of the chairs. They also engraved a special note from the LCTI students to the CLIU students on the base of the chairs.

The SOC building trades maintenance program students then assembled the chairs and sanded and treated the wood. Over about two months, the students built a total of 14 chairs which were distributed to various schools in the IU service area.

The chair design and building project proved to be a meaningful, problem-based learning opportunity for students. It engaged them in their technical skills and provided them the opportunity to collaborate with their peers to address a real-world problem. LCTI plans to continue the project during the 2019-2020 school year.


The SOC building trades maintenance and mechatronics instructors received positive feedback from the students and the community regarding the project. LCTI students were engaged in the project from start to finish and appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with peers in a different program. The chairs proved to be a helpful resource for the students with autism for whom they were designed.



Lehigh Career & Technical Institute
John Wynn, Instructor – Building Trades Maintenance

Lisa Heineman, Instructor – Mechatronics
Twitter: @lctimech

Kelly Cahoon, Instructional Coach
Twitter: @CahoonIC