Greenfield School students build prosthetic legs in STEM challenge

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


Sixth-grade science students at Greenfield School had a challenge.

After surviving the zombie apocalypse, one of their members was bitten and had to have a leg amputated.

The task last week was to manufacture and attach a prosthetic leg so their team members are able to run away from the zombies.

Divided into teams of four, groups were given a box of materials including pieces of gutter spouts of different sizes, lengths of PVC pipe, duct tape, packing materials such as paper and foam of different thicknesses and hardnesses, and shapes and random bits of plastic and cardboard.

“They get to build stuff, and they get to be creative. They get to use scissors and tape and make something happen,” said organizer Bethany Kenyon, eastern region STEM outreach coordinator with BioNetwork.

No two boxes were the same, so every group had a varied set of materials and had to come up with their own solution to the problem.

“So this way, the kids can’t look at the next group and see what they are doing because they have a different set of materials so they have to look at their problem a little differently,” Kenyon said.

Science teacher Covey Denton invited the BioNetwork into the classroom for the challenge.

“The wonderful thing about the STEM projects we do is there is not one solution,” Denton said.

Denton said students have been ingrained into finding what is the right answer and multiple choice questions lead them down that path.

“In these challenges, there is not a right answer,” Denton said. “You use multiple iterations. You improve. You make small adjustments, and it gets better and better so the kids get less concerned with giving the right answer and more concerned with developing a product that works, but then seeing what doesn’t work and making it better and making it better.”

Denton said it becomes an intrinsic motivation where they challenge themselves to do better or make their product better.

“They learn from their mistakes,” Denton said. “They learn from what doesn’t work or they learn from what other groups have done. They sort of adapt and make it their own, so I feel like this is more of a collaborative process and they are able to benefit from this.”

According to Kenyon, BioNetwork is an industry training organization that works to improve the pipeline from students through community colleges programs into industry jobs.

“We work to connect students to potential, whether that is students at a community college or students in high school or middle school and elementary school just to keep them interested in science,” Kenyon said. “We actually have talked to employers at manufacturing facilities and lab facilities and places that are going to hire these kids one day, and they have all said that what their employees could do better at is communication, collaboration, working together, thinking outside the box, being creative, problem solving.”

An activity like Prosthesis Thesis helps students build all of those skills, Kenyon said.

Kenyon has taken this and similar activities to several other schools in the state.

Student Mark Ma, of Beijing, said the project forced team members to collaborate,

“We are working with teams, and a lot of people know a lot of things,” Mark said. “When we put the things together, it can make it better.”

Student Ella Barnes Boykin agreed.

“We can all think together and demonstrate our ideas, and they can come together and we can do our ideas together,” she said. “It is going to be easier as a team.”

Once all of the legs were built, the volunteers had a race to see who was fastest.

Student Emily Newton got to the end of the course in 11.96 seconds, which was not as fast as Ollie Mann’s 11.53 seconds, but faster than Charles Thomas’ 12.21 seconds.

“It’s a tight race,” Denton said as nearly all of the prosthetics remained intact, and only two students fell to the ground.

Emily said it was hard watching as the other students outfitted her with a prosthetic.

“It kind of is hard to just sit there and not be able to help, but I know that I can somewhat trust them to do the right thing,” Emily said.

“We forgot to put foam under my knee, so it is hitting this hard cardboard, and it kind of hurts my knee. I think that it was a fun project and something that we will be able to use when we get older.”

Denton said any school in Wilson can sign up for similar challenges through BioNetwork. To reach Kenyon, call 252-227-9694 or by email at bkenyon@ncbionetwork.org.