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Robot Hands: Introduction to Simple Robotics Lesson


This STEM project will yield a moveable, anatomical robot hand that students can play and experiment with when completed.

Lesson Objectives and Key Questions

  • Have the students examine different functions of the robot hand (i.e., making a fist, handshakes, thumbs up, etc.) and explore the parts of the robot hand involved in those actions.
  • Have the students consider the different movements their hands go through while building their robot hands (i.e., using scissors, tying knots, threading string, holding a writing utensil, etc.)
  • What types of real-world uses are there for robot hands? Explore both the big and little picture.

Materials Needed

  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Card stock paper or cardboard 
  • Writing utensil
  • Plastic drinking straws (standard size)
  • Plastic drinking straws (larger size, like for milkshakes or bubble tea)
  • Yarn or durable string

Optional: Different colored string for every finger.

Learning Activity

Step 1:

Have students trace their hand and wrist on card stock paper and cut it out using scissors. Ask them to trace their hand slightly larger than their actual hand so that the fingers are not too slim.

Step 2:

Ask the students to draw lines where the finger joints should be, using their own hands for guidance. Then, have them make folds at each joint/ line drawn, making sure the folds are all in the same direction.

Step 3:

Have the students cut the standard-sized straws, so there are three pieces for each finger and two for the thumb. Each piece should be slightly shorter than the distance between the joints, so there is some room between each piece of straw. Then ask them to cut one long piece of standard-sized straw for each finger and thumb (slightly shorter than the length of the palm of their hands).

Tape each small piece of straw in place so that there is one for each part of the finger. Tape the longer pieces so that one end of the straw is just below the third finger joint, and the other end is angled toward the center of the hand's palm.

Now, have them cut the large straw to be shorter than the length of their robot hand's wrist and tape it in the center. 

Note for Step 3: Placement of the straws can get tricky; consider having an example ready to show students the correct straw placement. A large drawing of a robot hand at the front of the class will work, or you can get them to draw lines on their actual hands with a non-toxic felt pen to use as a guide. 

Step 4:

Instruct the students to tape a piece of string to the back of each finger and the tip, then thread it through the straws corresponding with their respective fingers. All of the strings will meet at the center of the palm and go through the large-sized straw together.

Step 5:

Ask the students to pull on each string and observe each robot's finger movements.

Guide them through particular hand movements like counting on their fingers, making a fist, a peace sign, and a thumbs up.


Modifications for Step 1:

  • To increase the difficulty of the project, and the functionality of the robot hand, have students trace their dominant hand.
  • To decrease difficulty, have students use a ruler after tracing their hands to make corrections (this will result in a robot hand with rectangular fingers). If students are using cardboard, this might make cutting easier as well.

Modification for Step 2:

  • If students are having difficulties folding thick cardboard, have them press down on the "joint lines" using the edge of a ruler while lifting the cardboard finger towards them.

Modification for Step 4:

  • To increase the difficulty of the project, after threading the strings through each straw, have the students make a loop at the end for their fingers to go into. Zip ties can be used, and an upgraded wrist piece to improve the robot hand's function and durability.

Modifications for Step 5:

  • If students made the "finger loop" robot hand, ask them to try more complex movements like shaking robot hands with their classmates, grasping objects (like an empty soda can), or even holding a writing utensil and writing their name.

Concluding Activity

When all exploration is finished, ask your students to write a short report of what they learned about their robot hand. Ask them to research real robot hands that are being created or are already in use.

Written by Taynne Wallace
Education World Contributor
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