Anatomy Comes to Life – 7th Graders Design & Construct Robotic Arms

Robotic Arm


Most students acquire a cursory understanding of human anatomy in science class, but in our Middle School, we design our curriculum to push our students to go further and achieve deeper understanding. Our 7th grade robotic arm project is a great example of this approach.  

This unique project was devised by Middle School Design Teacher Elisabeth Lepert, and combined skills from multiple disciplines – science, design, robotics, and computer science.

0115ISTP_Oct2018_9686eFirst, students learned about muscles and how they move and react to stimuli in science class. Next, in design class, they were challenged to create a working model of a human arm. The arm would have to be both anatomically correct and able to recreate a reflex reaction, moving in response to a stimulus (such as how you would retract your arm if you touched a hot stove).

Students had the freedom to construct their models from whatever materials they thought would work best – they used cardboard, plastic, balloons, felt, rubber gloves, and more. They attached strings to small servo motors and connected them to the muscles and bones to simulate muscle movement.

0103ISTP_Oct2018_9666e7th grader Claire Y. explains the process. “We had to create the muscles and joints and represent how the muscles work in pairs. We used cardboard for the bones, the hummingbird circuit board, servo motors, glue, cloth, and a glove. We had to problem-solve because we first used balloons for the muscles, but they kept popping so then we had to switch to tissue cloth to make it work.”

Students used their computers to program the servo motors to work together with a sensor so that the arm would contract when the sensor was triggered.

Claire’s partner for the project, Anya G., adds, “It was a really long process with a lot of different parts that had to work together.”

Anya thinks that the project helped them understand anatomy in a deeper way. “We had to program LEDs to light up to show which muscle was contracting when, and I think that really helped us to learn how the arm works.”

Claire adds, “We were able to see the arm working in a 3D, visual way, and it’s always easier to understand what you are learning when you are creating it yourself.”

Anya concludes, “We worked really hard on the project, and we are both really proud of it.” 

 *In 2020, the International School of the Peninsula (ISTP) formally changed its name to Silicon Valley International School (INTL) to better reflect its bilingual programs, location, and international values.