Students from preschool through 8th grade at Media-Providence Friends School participated in an annual STEAM Week, an intensive five-day cross-curriculum program emphasizing 21st century skills. MPFS’ yearlong theme of Windows into Health: Finding a Healthy Balance informed the activities and programming for this project-based, immersive learning experience. During STEAM Week, students took part in activities around finding balance both physically (with the food we eat, how we move through the world) and mentally (with activities around mindfulness and meditation.)
With a focus on engineering and service learning, 5th-8th grade students worked together to build twenty 3D-printed prosthetic hands, which are in the process of being donated to children in need. Students in preschool and lower school worked with simplified versions of prosthetics and also read Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again about a dolphin who lost her tail in a crab trap but learned to swim with a prosthetic. The youngest MPFS students helped design and build “prosthetics” for “injured” wind-up toy animals missing limbs. In preparation for their STEAM activities, students learned the history of prosthetics, the anatomy of the hand, as well as exercises around empathy for people who are differently-abled. Faculty led discussions and lessons on what makes a person “whole” and how to find balance both physically and mentally to create happier selves.
Working with designs from the e-NABLE Community, over the course of this week, 5th-8th grade MPFS students worked tirelessly to assemble and test the twenty prosthetic hands. According to their website, the e-NABLE Community is made up of “…individuals from all over the world who are using their 3D printers to create free 3D printed hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device.” MPFS technology teacher Donna Svinis went through the process to become “electronically badged” to print and distribute the prosthetics. In the months leading up to STEAM Week, MPFS’ 3D printers were running constantly. To print the parts needed for one hand took approximately 40 hours of continuous printing.
Once students had studied the anatomy and mechanics of the hand, they began working to assemble their prosthetics. After “cleaning” the individual pieces of the 3D-printed prosthetic hand, using small tools to trim and file down the excess plastic edges, students assembled the “bones” of the hand. Then, using elastic string and fishing wire to mimic the tendons of the hand, students created enough tension to ensure an effective grip. Though the process for students was often tedious and frustrating, and involved a lot of trial-and-error and adjustments, their motivation throughout held strong because they knew each prosthetic hand would be going to help a differently-abled child in need.
MPFS partnered with University of Delaware seniors Andrew Dirk and Claire Paddock, both biomedical engineering majors and co-founders of Empowered Technologies, to find homes for the 3D-printed hands. Dirk and Paddock have been working with two young children named Mya and Jack, who were both born with symbrachydactyly, a congenital abnormality that results in the absence of some or all of the bones typically in the fingers or toes. The goal for Jack and Mya is to be able to safely ride their bikes with the use of prosthetic hands. The weekend after STEAM Week, Jack and Mya were fitted with their 3D prosthetic hands (photo attached) assembled by MPFS students. After all of their diligent work, it was gratifying for students to see the fruits of their labor helping real kids, just like them. “Being able to help someone, a kid, do something they might not be able to otherwise, that makes me feel really good,” says sixth grader Samantha Ernst.
Dirk and Paddock also visited with students at MPFS to talk about their own prosthetic projects, how they became interested in biomedical engineering, what classes they took in high school and college to prepare them for their ultimate careers, and more. Students had the opportunity to ask questions and voice their own interests in the sciences.
In the past decade, growth in jobs that require this kind of collaborative, interdisciplinary thinking have been growing at three times the rate of non-STEAM fields. “The purpose of STEAM Week is to expose students to possible careers, things that maybe new to them that they hadn’t seen or considered (and) to see how science works in the real world and how it effects people’s lives,” says Teacher Donna Svinis. With yearlong, school-wide STEAM programming, along with our intensive STEAM Week, MPFS students are prepared to solve the problems of today and tomorrow.