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Trails West students learn engineering, public service with prosthetic hand project

​​group of students in the library programming theiir prosthetic thumb. Amanda Danner was thinking of someone she'd never met; she was thinking of someone she could very well never meet.

The 11-year-old student from Trails West Elementary School was on a break from working on a class project that had spanned several weeks, one that saw a group of 30 fifth-graders working together for a common purpose.

The students were gathered in the school library, building prosthetic hands for children in need during a sunny morning in February. Danner was focused on the eventual recipient.

"This whole project is so cool. We're helping kids who don't have hands, and it's cool to help them," Danner said. "This is a way for them to have a new (prosthetic) hand if they can't afford it," she added, speaking specifically about the child who'd eventually receive the plastic body part she'd helped build with her classmates. "I'd like to meet them, but only if they're comfortable with it."



Danner and her classmates were close to completing their project, which started with components produced on the school's 3-D printer. After their final work session on Feb. 12, the group had built five functioning prosthetic hands, pieces that incorporated sleek design and exact engineering. The project combined lessons in science, technology, craftsmanship, creativity and, perhaps most importantly, public service.

"This has been such an amazing opportunity ... To watch the students figure out how to manipulate these small parts, it's been amazing to watch," said teacher Maria Hatch, who worked with fellow teacher Hollis Jacob to organize the project. "Sometimes, they'll complain that their fingers hurt while building the pieces, but they know that some child is going to have this hand.

"That warms my heart," Hatch added.students at trails west learning how to program prosthetic hands with their laptops.

The "Hand Challenge" started as a project launched by three sixth-graders from South Carolina, students who turned an initial fascination with 3-D Printers in to a public service project designed to profoundly impact lives. That first push grew in to a movement, and the Prosthetic Kids Hand Challenge now offers templates for the hands that are available online for any school that has the proper tools.

When Hatch and her colleagues learned about the project, they were quick to choose a group of 30 fifth-graders to meet the challenge. The appeal was in the project's combination of public service and curriculum-based science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), as well as some art components thrown in for good measure. Trails West was the first school in the Cherry Creek School District to take up the challenge.

And the project offered plenty of challenge for the participants. While the components for the prosthetics were easily available online, assembling the final product took some real ingenuity and know-how on the part of the fifth-graders.

"It took about 16 hours to print the parts for each hand," Hatch said. "The project combines science and math, and also English. We're going to have the students write about their experiences."

The students may also have a chance to track the hands and they're shipped to recipients. Depending on the wishes of those involved, the Trails West students may have a chance to communicate with the kids whose lives will be positively impacted by their in-class work.

Beyond the important lessons rooted in STEM, that direct feedback could very well be one of the greatest takeaways from the project. But Danner and her fellow fifth-graders aren't relying on any kind of praise or adulation. That's not what the project was about.

"They're doing this for someone they don't even know," Hatch said. "That's the best part of this whole thing."

Posted 2/17/2016 1:27 PM

"This whole project is so cool. We're helping kids who don't have hands, and it's cool to help them ... This is a way for them to have a new (prosthetic) hand if they can't afford it."

-- Amanda Danner, fifth-grader at Trails West Elementary School

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