Enable project in education

A journey into 3D printing and the e-NABLE project

3D printed prosthetic solutions are changing not only the medical, but also educational landscape. Caroline Latham is here to share her experience with you.

In September 2014, I was introduced to the Enabling the Future organization via a 3D printing professional development workshop I attended. My intention was to learn more about the capabilities of 3D printing, and the end result was a year-long project that produced 20 hands. I was excited at the prospect of the opportunity of being able to help create 3D printed hands with my students and the school had recently purchased an Ultimaker 3D printer. As part of a team of three teachers, we decided to pilot the program in four of our math and engineering classes in grades 9, 10 and 11. The pilot was so successful that it was expanded to an entire grade level of math classes in the 9th grade this past school year.

The e-NABLE project gave us a real-world application to tie in with the mathematical topics of ratio, proportion and symmetry. The Enable Community Foundation paired recipients in need of hands with our classes, and two recipients even came up to the school to receive their hands in person. The photo below shows hand recipient Natanial receiving his new 3D-printed hand from one of our classes, along with his family and teachers Tanya Lerch and Aubree Stephens.


All of the e-NABLE print files are open source, and scaling can be done linearly based on photos provided by the recipient. The Enable Community Foundation has since created an Enable Educators Guide to help teachers through the process of printing and building the hands.

My students were really motivated to create the designs that recipients wanted. Some of the most popular designs were based on Marvel characters like Wolverine, Ironman and Captain America. There were even some requests for the popular Disney princess from the hit movie Frozen. Models based on Marvel characters were created starting with Enable’s Raptor Hand.

The e-NABLE experience was so worthwhile and students were totally engaged throughout the process. I would often have students complain when they had to leave my math class because they wanted to keep working! They volunteered to come in during their free periods, and a few even worked on Saturdays to finish hands more quickly to meet a deadline. Several of the students have now decided to pursue engineering as their majors in college and hope to become engineers.

There were several things we learned while working with students on this project. First, students were required to create a Google site to communicate the process of printing and building the hands with the recipients and their families. Second, we learned is that it’s okay to allow students to fail. Learning takes place when students have to use their problem-solving skills to figure out what to do. Third, as the class gained more experience working on the project, the entire process of using the 3D printer and making hands became easier.

I look forward to creating the latest e-NABLE model with my students this coming school year. This model is called the Phoenix Hand. Here is a photo of the model of the Phoenix that we printed this past May:

Phoenix hand

I look forward to seeing what the students at St. Joseph High School will create next with the Ultimaker Original+ 3D printer kit that they will build this coming school year. Their creativity is only limited to their imagination and they have proven to be very imaginative thus far.