Engineering Teachers Respond to Covid-19 with Invention

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIN
email
sharethis

By Doug Scott, engineering teacher, Hopkinton High School, Hopkinton, Mass.

The Shield Team 2020 was born out of necessity, like most engineering and invention projects. Dr. Peter Slavin, president of Massachusetts General Hospital, had sent out an all-call to anyone with a 3D printer to manufacture face masks. The medical community was experiencing a significant shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) while COVID-19 cases soared in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

I had built a makeshift workshop in my basement that included some 3D printers for the school shop. I experimented with several mask designs, but was super uncomfortable with them. I was not confident that I could produce an adequate breathing device that would filter virus particles.

Face shields were also in high demand, so after some research, I turned my focus towards producing those. I printed out a headband on the 3D printer and affixed a couple pieces of clear plastic from some seltzer bottles and—voila—the first prototype was made. With a friendly post to Twitter to share my work, I found an old friend was working on the same thing. Educator Mike Looney of Mashpee, Massachusetts was trying various designs to see which could help out local hospitals on Cape Cod.

 

 

 

Mike Looney and I both experienced a critical problem — during our first rounds of production, each shield took hours to make. It simply wasn’t efficient enough a process to help meet the enormous demand. The Medical Reserve Corps in Hopkinton and the Cape Cod Community Hospital were pleased with the shields, but they needed many more of them than we could make in our workshops.

Mike and I reached out to Mark Westlake, a teacher friend in Minnesota who had the capacity to print at home. I also had student volunteers pick up the remaining printers from our school shop to chip in.

We still needed help. We also needed a more streamlined shield design that would take less time to print. Mike Looney is a member of the Cape Cod Makers Society, and they developed a less time intensive design — what became known as the “Looney.”

Even with this hardworking crew assembled, we met and discussed what we could do to establish a franchise system in which people could set up networks across the United States to help produce life saving face shields.

Our easy to use instructions and files soon became a hit with students, teachers and others. Our team grew to 270 plus members who have produced over 46,000 shields, as well as some other PPE devices. Our team continues to grow and produce, focusing our efforts on areas hard hit as COVID-19 outbreaks shifted from state to state.

One of the most interesting benefits of the project has been to help fulfill a sense of purpose and belonging that people needed, especially in the middle of isolation. Members have expressed how making face shields made them feel like they were doing something to fight the virus and help those on the front lines.

 


 

Invention Education” takes as its main purpose teaching the skills needed to identify a problem and then to solve it with creative and unique solutions. It was these skills that were essential to my ability to help lead the team. My years of teaching Invention Education had prepared me well for the moment.

By approaching the lack of PPE as a problem to solve and staying focused on developing solutions, my teammates and I were able to expend our abundant nervous energy in a productive and positive way. There is no point in focusing only on the doom and gloom — it is important to look to the edges of all that is going on and find ways that each of us can help solve a problem, no matter how big or small. Our team always figured that if we saved only one life from all of the thousands of shields that we produced, that our work still really mattered.

Since the start of our face shield making days, our team has also developed some other helpful shields for school use upon re-opening. We have developed cardboard quad dividers, music stand shields, seat back shields, cafeteria table dividers and hat clip shields. The team is focused on providing safe and affordable options for schools. All of our designs are subject to approval by local board of health officials overseeing reentry plans.

I am proud of all of our Shield Team 2020 members and know that each of them will be able to reflect back upon this time and say, “I did something. I did my part.”

Republished with permission from PBS NewsHour Extra.