A class of eighth graders has designed and built four different, functional prosthetic hands, plus donated $2,500 to their local Shriners hospital, thanks to their science teacher, Doug Bambini.
Bambini, a teacher of science, English, and religion at St. Genevieve DuBois School, Warson Woods, Missouri, got the idea to assign the project after teaching a unit on the human body. The assignment, according to the West County Journal newspaper, was to first research prostheses and how they work, then as a member of one of four class teams, "develop an artificial hand that emulated a living hand and, using a pulley system, enable it to pick up a soda can."
Bambini told the Journal, "I wanted to do a hands-on project that would challenge this group of kids.... If you have low expectations, then kids will meet those. But if you have high expectations, then kids will take off, and these kids really took off with this project. I was amazed at what they accomplished."
He did comment, however, that his students thought that he was joking at first, and then doubted that they could accomplish the project. They rose to the task, though, after members of the O&P department at the local Shriners Hospital for Children invited the students to visit their department and gave them an extensive introduction to a variety of artificial hands and the particulars of creating upper-limb prostheses.
The visit supercharged students' motivation on the project. Bambini explained, "I'd told them that after the holidays, we'd spend time in class talking about ways they could make this project work and getting it started...but when we came back the first day after the break, two of the four teams were already done and the other two were nearly finished." Students had organized themselves to meet and work on the projects over their holiday break.
All of the prosthetic hands satisfied the assignment's criteria: all used a pulley system and could pick up a soda can. However, each project was unique. According to the Journal, one group used silicone caulk over a cardboard tracing of a student's hand, with cord running through thick straws to power the grip. Another used dowels, fishing line, and a textured rubber glove.
After the projects were turned in, the students presented them to the Shriners staff. Emery Miko, director of orthotics and prosthetics at Shriners, was quoted as saying, "I was totally amazed at the designs and function of these devices.... The essence of prosthetic principles was there, and considering these were constructed in basements and garages using everyday common materials, they were excellent."
The students also "adopted" the Shriners facility as their class service project, holding fundraisers and sending out appeals to generate more than $2,500 for the hospital, according to the Journal. Bambini commented, "I'm very proud of these kids.... They not only took on a challenging academic project, but more importantly, they realized one of their primary jobs in life is to take care of other people."