Robotics educators aid in COVID-19 battle


from Michigan Education Association (MEA)

Holt High School biology teacher Lisa Weise has sparked a statewide movement by public educators to equip Michigan’s front line health care workers with protective equipment as they treat patients infected with coronavirus (COVID-19).

Weise’s sister-in-law, a nurse at a metro Detroit hospital, initially asked if Weise’s robotics team could design a face shield to protect those treating infected patients.

“As we were talking, it occurred to me another need was for goggles, and I thought, ‘I already have those,’” said Weise, a Michigan Education Association member and 2004 Michigan Science Teacher of the Year. “I could just give those to people.”

Weise obtained 100 pairs of goggles from her classroom. She stopped short of mailing them when she realized about 600 other First Robotics teams across Michigan could also contribute to the cause.

“They donated goggles, then went a step further and organized a collection and gave a bunch more goggles to the hospital,” she said. “Now I’m trying to find other teams to do the same thing, because every team can be doing this right now. Everyone I’ve talked to has said, ‘Yes, certainly we’ll help. We’ve got it.’ People want to help.”

Ben Shoemaker, an MEA member and robotics coach in Mason Public Schools, was one of the first to answer the call. Shoemaker, who has access to 3D printers he brought home prior to the statewide closure of school buildings, is using the machinery to print face shields for health care workers.

Shoemaker then reached out to other robotics coaches who also had access to 3D printers.

“First Robotics is a big problem-solving organization,” the 18-year science and technology teacher said. “It’s an open network for people to communicate, and we always do, so it was natural for people to want to work together and solve problems.”

Shoemaker’s student leadership team also is providing virtual company to local senior citizens.

“We’re taking the tablets we have for scouting and trying to get those delivered to some senior centers in the area so kids can be virtual pen-pals with seniors who are shut in and might not have visitors,” he said.

These combined efforts return a welcome sense of mission and purpose while school buildings are closed, Weise and Shoemaker said.

“I think the hardest thing for us as educators is having the drive to get kids to a certain point and all of a sudden you’re told, ‘Well, you’re not going to get to do that for a while,’ and it just takes your sails away,” Shoemaker said.

“This project has provided a welcome opportunity for robotics coaches and students to utilize their skills and knowledge to lend a helping hand to those risking their lives to help keep our communities safe,” Weise said.

The mission of the MEA is to ensure that the education of our students and the working environments of our members are of the highest quality.