STEM: Building Prosthetic Limbs

Part of the Gifted curriculum I teach is a unit called "Thinking Like a Disciplinarian" where the students get the chance to step into the shoes of a specific disciplinarian. This time teaching this unit I had my students thinking like engineers, a different type of engineer for each grade level.

3rd Grade: Greenhouse Engineers
4th Grade: Civil Engineers
5th Grade: Biomedical Engineers

This blog post will focus on the 5th Grade Biomedical Engineers. Their project was to design and build prosthetic limbs. I was inspired by a post that I saw attempted by high school students, and thought "Would it be possible for elementary students to attempt this project?" I set about creating all the materials I would need for the students to complete this project that was aligned with the Common Core Standards. Below is the packet that I created, which I turned into a bound book for each team of students.

To get your own copy of this STEM packet (aligned with Next Generation and CCSS) please 
Click Here

The students had several things that they had to accomplish during this project:

1. Work in teams of 4 and select jobs: Team Leader, Technology Recorder, Time Keeper/Recorder, and Materials Manager.
2. Receive their client information card. This gave them all the information that pertained to the client that they would be building the prosthetic for, including measurements, background information and personal interests.
3. Each team had to create a design for what their prosthetic would look like.
4. Teams were given a budget of $30 with which to purchase the materials to build with. I procured many of the materials through parent donations, but some of the items I did purchase myself from the 99 Cents store. I then priced out the items according to how useful they would be in the building process. The more useful materials were more expensive, the less useful were less expensive
5. Teams could then start purchasing materials, being sure to keep track of quantity and prices in their student book. Once they purchased an item it could not be exchanged or returned. Once the budget was used up, they could not get anymore.
6. Once the prosthetic was built, teams had to test their prototype to see if it worked and make adjustments as needed. They also had to decorate the prosthetic according to the specific interests of the client.
7. Finally, the teams had to use technology to film a commercial advertising their prosthetic and highlighting some of the specific features.

Below I documented as much of there
 process as possible. I hope that you too feel inspired to try this with your students!

  • I only see my students twice a week for a 45 minute period, so that is the only time to work on the project.
  • I spent several weeks gathering all the materials needed ahead of time. I also made sure to have enough of each material for each group. Not all materials were used, so I have saved them for future projects.
  • I did a few simple engineering activities prior to this project in order to see which students were natural leaders as well as giving students time to practice building with a variety of materials.
Teams beginning to purchase materials and thinking critically about how to put them together.

One student thought it would be a good idea to tape the plunger straight to his leg :)

A few trial runs further down the development road...

Working on decorating and making finishing touches.

After weeks of work, the final designs.

Prosthetic #1: Basketball Player

Prosthetic #2: Dirt Bike Racer

Prosthetic #3: Golf Enthusiast

Prosthetic #4: Fan of the color green

Prosthetic #5: Surfer

Prosthetic #6: Little girl who likes flowers

At the end of the project the students had to make commercials to advertise their prosthetic limbs. For the content of the commercial the students had to include:

  • Information about designing the limb
  • The name of their prosthetic company
  • Discuss the budget and materials used
  • Share their perspective on people with prosthetics
Here are some examples of the commercials that the students made:


  1. As a 4th/5th grade STEM teacher, I just stumbled upon this project, and I am BLOWN away. This is an incredible resource. Thank you so very much for this inspiration. I cannot wait to introduce this to my students! I especially love that it's not JUST a math or just a science or just an engineering project, but that it incorporates every aspect of STEM. Absolutely love this. Thank you!!


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