Students Get Hands-on With 3D-printed Prosthesis

Possibilities Inspired by Playground Observation

As 3D printing becomes more accessible to educators around the globe, students are experiencing opportunities they would have never previously imagined. Students at Target Range Middle School in Missoula, Montana are currently working on creating a prosthetic hand for Carter, a kindergartener in their school district.

“I was on playground duty and noticed Carter. I’ve seen stories of people creating prosthetics for people and thought, ‘we have someone in our own school who could benefit from this’. I knew our Gifted and Talented students could use the Afinia 3D printer to create something for him,” said Ebelt, an instructor for the district.

Ben C., one of Ebelt’s 6th grade Gifted and Talented students chimed in, “When we heard about Carter and the possibility for the project, we were excited to help him. We’ve seen people make instruments and casts, so we figured we could print a hand.”

About Carter

Carter with 3D printed hand
Carter wearing the preliminary 3D-printed prosthesis, with his dad, mom, and sister.

Katy, Carter’s mother, describes the 6-year-old as “a really sweet boy.”

“You wouldn’t know he doesn’t have both hands. He’s very independent, and doesn’t let anything slow him down or hold him back. Carter got his first prostheses when he was six months old, to help him push his body into a crawling position,” she explains. “Mostly, he treated it like a toy, and he outgrew it really quickly.”

“When he was about three and a half, we had another one made that he used a bit, but basically, it was an attachment with a suction cup on one end that allowed him to do a few specific activities, like ride his bike, do tumbling, and jump rope,” says Katy. “But it was really heavy, which was limiting. He has a third version now, that’s much lighter due to improved technology.”

“Carter has a super personality and was on board with the project,” tells Ebelt. “He’s excited about the process, and giving his input. We’re hoping this can be a really useful, yet fun, thing for him.”

Getting Started

Initially, Carter’s mom was a little hesitant. “We’re not the kind of family that likes to get a lot of attention. As a mother, I don’t want Carter to think that anything is “wrong”… he knows he’s different, but I don’t want there to be a negative association to it. He can still do everything he wants to do,” Katy says.

3D-printed hand close up
Ebelt’s class printed a preliminary hand that will be adjusted and lengthened after measuring Carter.

However, after meeting with Ebelt, being in her classroom, and talking with her about the project, Katy felt like this was a great opportunity for her son and the kids in the class. “They get to create something for Carter, and see how it impacts him. It sounded like it could be a fun project, and something that’s academically beneficial for the other students, and for Carter, too.”

Taking It On, Step by Step

Sixth grader Owen G. shares, “So far, the project has been aimed at learning about Carter.” Ebelt’s students explain that they want to make sure to get to know Carter so they are able to 3D print a hand that he will enjoy using.

“I like the colors red and blue. And I like the Seattle Seahawks,” says Carter. These are just two of the many the things that Ebelt’s students learned and may incorporate into the design for Carter’s prosthetic hand. Michaela D., another of Ebelt’s 7th graders, adds, “We’ll be taking measurements today to create a hand that is also tailored to him.”

Ebelt's students meet with Carter for an interview, to learn more about him.
Ebelt’s students meet with Carter for an interview, to learn more about him.

“We’ll do some testing to see what the right size is, compare it to his other hand, and make sure they are the same length. We knew the approximate size of his hand at first, and now we are going to make more parts to improve it,” clarifies 7th grader Anya C., who is also in the Gifted and Talented class.

Ebelt explains, “Since he’s so young, we’ll continue working with him as he grows. Doing this project not only benefits Carter by providing him with an inexpensive prostheses, he’s also benefitting by beginning the process of understanding engineering and learning how to 3D print.”

No Experience Necessary, You Learn As You Go

“I’ve been using a 3D printer since 5th grade. I started out making small things like houses, and now getting into more complex prints,” says Jeremy (JJ) A., who is now in 7th grade. “My favorite thing I’ve printed so far is a boat. It’s hollow on the inside, and it actually floats.”

Although some of the students in Ebelt’s class have had experience with 3D printing, there are also students involved in the project who are new to the technology. Anya says, “I didn’t have any 3D printing experience before this class. It’s pretty fun, and easy to pick up on as you go. At first it was difficult, but it got easier as I learned more.”

JJ was excited to share that they’ve learned a lot about 3D printing and engineering with this project. “Carter’s hand needs to be functional. But it also needs to be comfortable and something he’ll like to wear. It’s given us a lot of experience with 3D design and drawing to make it like a normal hand,” he says.

Getting a Head Start With 3D Printing

Ebelt’s students, Carter, and Carter’s mother are all becoming more familiar with 3D printing. “It looks like technology is moving quickly towards engineering and 3D printing,” remarks Katy. “I work for a dentist in town, and we are starting to use 3D scanning in our office, and are seeing more of this technology in the field as a whole in the last few years. It’s cool because it’s showing up in a lot of different fields, and if it’s a way that you can make artificial limbs, or tools, or even teeth for people, it’s just a really positive thing. And for kids who are of school age, to have the opportunity to use some of those tools in class is really cool.”

Learn more about Afinia 3D for education.

Ebelt Gifted and Talented Class Photo
Ebelt (left) and her Gifted and Talented class pose for a photo with Carter (center), and special guest Melissa Rafferty, KPAX TV Producer (right).