Making Hands

We are all focused on getting ready for Maker Faire right now, which has kept me busy and gotten me behind on this post. Next week I’ll begin posting previews of students’ projects for Maker Faire, but, while it’s still fresh, I thought I’d share a making project that our middle school students just finished in their making elective, since I missed getting a post up about it last trimester.

Frankly, I don’t know what our official title for this project is. Around the Creativity Lab, we generally just refer to it as “the hand project,” or “hands,” as in: “Students are working on their hands,” or, “Do we have any hands we can show off to a tour group?” So, here it is:

The Hand Project: Build a device that can be manipulated to pick up objects. Grading is based on creativity, effort, and the machine’s ability to effectively pick up a berry basket, a cup of water, and an egg carton (filled with wood, to add weight).

Students begin by studying their own hands—how joints and tendons work together to form grabbers, and so on. It’s a quick examination, just to give students some ideas to jump-start their design process. Our main material for the hand project is cardboard. (It’s cheap; it’s in abundant supply; it’s sturdy; it’s easy to work with…)

Here’s an idea of a basic design:

1. Students trace and cut out their own hands on cardboard

2. Attaching strings that run through straw pieces along the fingers creates tendons that let the fingers bend when the strings are pulled. The most straws pieces used, the more the fingers will bend.




(Note. Though the four main fingers tend to be easy to manipulate, creating a thumb is more challenging. This is where a lot of the design process and creative thinking comes into play. Just like a cartoon hand might be animated with three or four fingers instead of five, students are encouraged to reimagine what a hand should look like.)

Students are free to deviate from the hand idea altogether—and, frankly, students who branch out tend to be the most impressive in regards to creativity and persistence. (This is why calling the project “hands” doesn’t quite fit, but we’re going with it for now, anyway.)

One student designed hers to work like a prehensile tail:

The tail design was able to pick up the berry basket and cup of water, but the egg carton proved too heavy for the cardboard. The student received an “exceeds expectations” grade regardless, for the effort and creativity involved.

Watch the videos below to see more of our students’ designs in action. Comment and let us know what you think!

(Sorry—I wasn’t able to get video showing that hand in action!)


“The Hand Project” designed by Jeremiah Jenkins. Pictures and videos feature 7th and 8th grade students at Lighthouse Community Charter School.



David is the documentarian and professional development coordinator for the Creativity Lab. In 2014, he received a BA in creative writing from Louisiana State University, with focuses on short fiction and screenwriting. In partnering with New Orleans-based independent film company, Asymptote Pictures, his work has been featured in film festivals across the country. He likes his espresso maker, and vegetarian tacos.