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Lending a Helping Hand

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The eighth grade completed an inspiring project in the Innovation Lab this past winter, studying, designing and building prosthetic hands. After studying the mechanics of the human hand and working on their own designs and prototypes, the students—led by CDS Innovation Lab Director Jeri Countryman—used our 3D printers to build a fully functional prosthetic. They then sent their completed hand to Enabling the Future(link is external), an organization that creates connections between individual producers of prosthetics and those in need of affordable prosthetic hands. Just last week, Enabling the Future approved the eighth graders’ hand, clearing the way for the CDS Innovation Lab to become a provider of prosthetic hands to individuals, primarily children, in need.

The eighth grade started the quarter with an open-ended design challenge to create a grabbing device that could pick up an object from two feet away. The goals were to give students a chance to design, build, test and iterate on their designs and to use tools that they hadn’t used before. Using basic materials such as cardboard and string, students created a number of effective grabbing devices, learning about mechanics and the design/build process.

The next phase was to look at our own grabbing devices, our hands, to understand how they work. Students used the lasercutter to cut out hands that were approximately the size of their own, and then worked in teams to build the hands and mimic tendons in order to better understand the complex mechanisms that allow us to grab and manipulate objects. At this point, students received a visit from Joe Muller of San Francisco Prosthetic and Orthotic Service. Joe visited the classroom to talk about his work with people who need upper limb prosthetics. He brought in several prosthetic devices so the class could see the range of devices including one that the students could wear to get a feel for how they are used.

Then the real challenges began! Using the amazing resources of the CDS Innovation Lab, students worked in teams to build two fully functional prosthetic hands, following specifications provided by Enabling the Future. Using the 3D printer, the eighth graders printed and painstakingly assembled the hands with the goal of achieving the strict quality control standards set by Enabling the Future. Suffice it to say, they surpassed those standards, and the CDS Innovation Lab is now approved to produce hands for those in need. The next step is to wait for the organization to make a match, though students from all four middle school grades will continue to produce hands now that the lab has been approved.

We are so proud of our students and of Jeri for completing this incredible, constructivist, and courageous project! When we say that our middle school students are passionate citizens who will change their world, we mean it.