Delivering on the PLTW Promise During Uncertain Times: Community Comes Together to Support Healthcare Professionals

We know the critical need to empower students to thrive in our evolving world, but that need has come front and center as our country responds to COVID-19. PLTW Teachers and students are rapidly transitioning to distance learning environments, and while many are grappling with the impacts of working remotely, this new normal hasn’t stopped our PLTW network from seeing needs in the community and using knowledge and skills to address them. Now more than ever, thank you to our PLTW family for using your communication, collaboration, critical- and creative-thinking, and problem-solving skills to lead the way through this evolving situation.

PLTW Master Teacher Bill Van Loo describes the first two weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic as “just nuts” with everyone figuring things out, but it didn’t take long for his community to come together to offer support where they could.

Van Loo teaches PLTW Gateway courses at A2 STEAM, a K-8 school in Ann Arbor Public Schools, and applauds his colleagues for taking a thoughtful approach to transitioning to remote learning amidst a global crisis.

“Our district was pretty on top of things,” he said. “They did a really good job of rolling out a plan slowly and thinking carefully through issues like the digital divide and the equity around that.”

He says those first few days were full of learning opportunities as schools worked to get devices out to kids while figuring out what it means to be a teacher in a completely virtual setting.

“For us as PLTW teachers, it was figuring out, ok, this is what we do for PLTW in a normal setting, this is what we can do remotely, and this is what we can switch up,” he said. “It’s also a chance to ask students what technology they’re interested in and what they have access to. Then, we can work together to create projects. That’s been fun to see how to turn this challenge into an opportunity and see what they’re interested in to lead their own learning.”

Another challenge was figuring out how to support parents as they navigate this new world.

“It can be an overload of information for students and parents to figure this all out, but you want to make sure to give them enough information so they know what’s going on,” he said. “That’s a tricky balance to strike. We’re really looking at every facet of what we’re doing and asking what that means for students.”

With so much going on, Van Loo says he is inspired by seeing how the Ann Arbor community has come together.

“What’s helped me get through this is thinking that even though there are so many awful things going on, there are some really bright spots,” he said. “We have the opportunity to think through the business of school and how we support the community.”

For Van Loo and the PLTW teachers across the district, the answer was evident, and they began 3D printing personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare professionals across the region, the state, and even across state borders.

 While his teacher group has created more than 1,000 face shields, it has truly turned into a community effort as now 500 - 1,000 face shields are created each day across the community to extend the reach even beyond Michigan.

“This has been a huge team effort,” he said. “This is not a me thing, this is a team thing. It’s been amazing to see, and I think we’re going to walk away from this with a tremendous learning experience.”