Blackwell Elementary Students Construct Robotic Arm for International Student in Need

“We get to build special things for special people.” According to a Blackwell Elementary School student, that is what makes the school’s robotics and coding club so great. 

This year, the fifth graders in the club launched a community service project that reaches across the Atlantic Ocean, across the African continent and all the way to the country of Oman. 

Blackwell students in the Robotics, Coding, and Community Service (RCC) club are using a 3D printer to build a prosthetic arm for an Oman student in need. The Blackwell club was recently certified to make prosthetic hands and arms for people in need. The Cobb school is the only elementary school in Georgia with the certification.  

Members of the Blackwell Elementary School Robotics, Coding, and Community Service Club demonstrate how they code a robot to dance.

The international student and her parents recently visited Blackwell and met members of the RCC club along with some of her peers in first grade. 

During the club meeting, the international visitor tested out some of the robotic hands that the club members had previously assembled. The club members created a prosthetic arm-sized and tailored just for her.  

Although 3D printing the parts only took a few days, the process also included taking special images of the Oman student’s arm, modifications, and a practice prosthetic to ensure the functionality supports her needs.  

The Blackwell students partnered with the Enabling the Future to design the arm’s socket, which requires more technical engineering. After the test model was finished, the Oman student was able to try it on and give feedback for the final version.  

“The arm fit well overall, and it was functional, but it was a little too long and the socket needed to be a bit deeper. She also decided that she wants the forearm to be brown in color to match the rest of the arm rather than the sports theme that we included,” explained Dr. Tom Brown, Blackwell STEM Lab teacher, and RCC Club advisor.   

The Blackwell students plan to make the changes and send their new friend the robotic arm in the next few weeks. The goal is for her to use the student-built arm until she is ready to try one that is made by professional prosthetic doctors like the ones at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. 

The Blackwell Students Helped One of Their Own Last Year  

Helping the student from Oman wasn’t the Blackwell student’s first time building a prosthetic. Last school year, they constructed one for a fellow Blackwell student and club member.  

The Blackwell Elementary fifth-grader was born without a left hand and forearm. The club printed and assembled an arm called the RIT arm, which is an adaptive device with an elbow but not a wrist. 

“While it turned out pretty well, it wasn’t fully functional and didn’t fit her quite right. This summer, we worked on another type of arm for her called the Adjustowrap arm.  We are hoping to have one printed and assembled for her soon,” the Blackwell RCC club advisor explained.    

The Robotics, Coding, and Community Service Club started in 2018 as an opportunity for students to explore their interest in robotics and coding, while the skills can be used to serve the needs of the people in the community, and now even around the world.  

As part of the club, the students have learned binary code, drag-and-drop programming and higher-order coding languages like Python. They have also coded robots like Spheros, Ozobots, Cozmo, and Alpha. 

“We started by using our 3D printer to print out and assemble a couple of prosthetic hands,” Dr. Brown added. 

Before helping the Oman student, the RCC club printed out six hands and worked in small groups to assemble them for practice.  

A Blackwell Elementary School first grader tries out a robotic arm built by the school’s Robotic, Coding and Community Service Club.

Even with all that the club has accomplished in a year, it is just the beginning.  

“We still have lots to learn about all of this,” Dr. Brown said.    

What keeps the students going is knowing that they have the ability and technology to help other people including students just like them.