e-NABLING The Future: Part 1

About this time last year I was in Wilmington, Deleware with my family for a wedding. As a consequence of living on the other side of the country, rarely do I have the opportunity to chat with my sibilings but on this occassion we had the time and space to spend a couple of days haning out. A conversation had with my younger brother during our time together can be credited with forever shifting the direction of my Disease and Society class. As we walked down the street on a brisk Saturday morning he asked if I had ever thought about getting a 3D printer for my classroom. This questions was totally my brother; random, unexpected, linked to technology, and oddly brilliant. I told him that I had not, but that it seemed like a good idea. Brandon proceeded to tell me all about the work that MakerBot was doing in conjunction with Donors Choose to get 3D printers into the hands of teachers. I'd like to say that I sprung to action as soon as I returned home, but in all honesty the project took a backseat for quite some time.

This past spring I finally got around to posting the project on Donors Choose. The grand total to be raised was $2600 so I was sure that the whole idea was a long shot, but figured that I had nothing to lose. "Making the Body" was launched last April. The first days of the campaign were exciting as the first $1000 rolled in fairly effortlessly. My professional network, family, and friends all showed their excitment by chipping in a few bucks here and there. It really is amazing how a bunch of small contributions can coalesce into something much larger. As those donations came in the whole thing started to become real. Unfortunately, once the initial excitment had faded, the project started to slow down. With all my friends and family tapped out the project still had $1000 to go. Not being sure what to do I reached out once again and got a couple bucks, but was still a ways out. This was life for the month of May. The project just kind of sat there. Then the most amazing thing happened; In June I started getting emails from Donors Choose that someone had just given to my project. Upon checking the name of the donor I realized that I had never met, nor heard of the individual who just contributed. In an amazing flurry of random donations, the last $1000 of the project materialized out of thin air over the course of an amazing week. By the end of June 43 donors had contributed $2600 and a MakerBot Replicator 2X was on its way to my classroom.

Knowing that I had a 3D printer on the way, I began thinking about how to best use the technology. In my wandering across the internet I happened upon the e-NABLE organization. e-NABLE uses the power of crowdsourcing to provide functional, 3D-printed, prosthetic hands to children who are missing some or all of their fingers. The multifacted approach of e-NABLE includes pairing 3D designers with people who have 3D printers and pairing people with 3D printers with children in need of a prosthetic hand. Around this common mission has sprung up a powerful community that is making a concrete difference in the lives of children around the world. How could I not get my students involved?

So we began ... Presently the students in Disease and Society are working on building hands for children in North Carolina, Ohio, and California. Along the way they are learning how to use a 3D printer, learning how to document work, learning how to build a prosthetic, learning how to engage in professional communication, and (judging by the laughter I hear right now) having some fun along the way. If you are interested, here's a link to our project document.

This week's weekly reporter, Jalissa Willis, was lucky enough to be chosen the week that we jumped into our work. Here's what she had to say.

Jalissa Writes:
“Out with the old, in with the new”. We presented our obesity projects and now are on to the next task. This week in our disease and society class we started our e-NABLE projects. Which I think is one of the coolest things that I have ever had the opportunity to do. This project we are using 3-D printers to create prosthetic hands for 3 children in need of them. Monday we spent most of our day learning what the whole project consist of. Making the hand isn’t the only piece to the project. Tuesday and Wednesday we got information about the child we were working with and went over how we can make this the best project. We also made our own driving questions with our project partners. Composing a driving question for this project is a part of our project grade.On Thursday, we as teams came up with some things that makes up a professional email. We learned how to introduce ourselves in the email and what a professional email has in it. Finally Friday, we got to know parts of the 3D printer. That we are able to feel comfortable and know what were doing when it’s comes time to actually make the hand.