Coles Elementary Technology Club uses 3D printing to help children with disabilities
Posted on 08/20/2019
Students working on computers designing 3D prosthetics

A grant from SPARK, the education foundation for PWCS, helped the Tech Club at Coles Elementary School morph into a more than typical after-school club. The purchase of a 3D printer has students creating prosthetic hands.

The Tech Club at Coles Elementary provides students extra time to utilize their STEM skills while working on various projects. Kindergarten teacher and Tech Club sponsor Ramona Richardson applied for an Innovative Grant from SPARK, the education foundation for PWCS, to add yet another learning opportunity for club participants. In her proposal called “Super Power Hands” she requested money to purchase a 3D printer. Richardson exclaimed, “This is the story of how one SPARK funded grant proposal taught our students the meaning of service, responsibility, engaged their compassion and empowered them to impact the lives of others.”

In 2016, Coles Elementary received the funds to buy their 3D printer, but it came with minimal operating instructions and there was not much information on the internet. A chance meeting at the Superintendent’s Business Breakfast with Charlene Wilkens from Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) led Richardton to Lawrence Nightingale, the evening coordinator of the Technology Innovation Lab of the Woodbridge Campus of NVCC.

With Nightingale as her mentor, Richardson lead the Coles Elementary Tech Lab students into a global community of volunteers developing 3D printed hands.

“State-of-the-art prosthetic hands can cost thousands of dollars and children often grow too quickly to justify the expense,” Richardson explained. “E-Nable, an online volunteer organization founded in 2013 by Jon Schull, matches children in need of prosthetic hands with volunteers able to make them on 3D printers.”

In that first year the club printed 14 prosthetic hands for the E-Nable organization. This past school year, they printed all of the 631 parts for 21 prosthetic hands. Garrett Hornauer, a rising senior at Colgan High School, took on the job of assembling the hands as his Eagle Scout project for the Boy Scouts.

“Through helping with the Tech Club at Coles Elementary, I have been able to teach kids to find new solutions to modern problems. I feel great knowing that I have helped kids so that they can help others to benefit the global community as a whole,” Garrett shared.

Hornauer learned about the Tech Club through his sister Alyssa, who is currently a student at Benton Middle School. She was part of the first group of students in the 2016-17 school year to print prosthetic hands. “I will always remember how great it felt to help out kids in need, “Alyssa reminisced.

Coles Elementary students use the 3D printer for other projects including a SPARK service project called “Tactile Hands,” where fifth-graders generated designs depicting scenes and items from 11 classic children’s stories. The 3D prints were given to elementary teachers of visually impaired students to accompany the books. And in 2018, Coles Elementary students won the National Tinkercad 3D challenge.