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Joplin learns and gives

Compassion and Printing Merge in 3-D Hand Challenge

January 27, 2017 – For the past couple Friday afternoons, 4th-grade students and classroom volunteers have been piecing together plastic fingers and wire tendons engineering prosthetic hands for use by children in need. This unique service learning project has inspired students and their families to engage in STEM discussion and collaborate in an act of kindness for the benefit of others.  


With the assistance of a Donors Choose grant, 4th-grade teacher Kirsten Grover acquired a three-dimensional printer and materials for participation in building prosthetic hands. Joining more than 500 classrooms in countries across the globe for the Hand Challenge, a partner to Enabling the Future, Grover’s classroom is on pace to finish assembling six hands by the end of this month.


This has been a learning process for all involved. While Grover was learning how to operate and program the 3-D printer, her students were studying the mechanics of how a hand works. 


“Each student created a paper version of a hand, with straws and strings to create moving parts. A small model for them to see how a hand works,” Grover explained. “The kids also spent two hours one afternoon with one of their hands bound in paper and tape. I wanted them to have a small glimpse into what it might be like to not have fingers on one hand.”


Following instructions created by the father-daughter duo and inventors Ivan and Torrae Owen, Grover and her students set to work producing pieces for the assembly of their first hand.


“Each piece takes anywhere from four minutes to three hours to construct, and there are a lot of pieces,” explained Grover. “The kids have really enjoyed watching the machine create the pieces for this project. They are intrigued at all the different shapes and sizes required. Always asking, ‘what’s this piece for?’”


Compassion is a vital component of assembling each prosthetic hand. “The 3-D printer is not perfect and several large pieces have been ruined in the middle of the printing process. One to two hours down the drain – teaching us all patience. What I have enjoyed is the reaction of the kids, through the disappointment or frustration in the setback. They are really connected to this project and I think after assembling these hands they will feel very proud.”


Through significant grant funding and private donations, these prosthetic hands are free to the end user. The Hand Challenge, and its larger counterpart Enable the Future, partner those in need of prosthetic hands with assembly groups near them.


“They are concerned for each other’s wellbeing and always willing to help,” boasts Grover of her students’ kindness. “The fact they will get the opportunity to help a child who has no fingers get the chance to experience grabbing something, makes them feel great. I hope this project will make them want to continue sharing and paying it forward.”


Student remarks on the Hand Challenge project:

-“It feels great to be a part of this,” said Zach.

-“I feel very excited to help someone in need,” shared Daelyn.

-“I feel awesome!” exclaimed Aiden.

-“It was so fun, but a little hard. I’m glad I am part of his project,” reflected Spencer.