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Lesson Plans

Lesson plan: How inventions like personal protective equipment "PPE" save lives during COVID

April 20, 2020

Full Lesson


Lesson by Doug Scott, engineering and robotics teacher, Hopkinton High School, Hopkinton, Massachusetts

NOTE: The prototype is NOT to be tested on a real infant or person. The point of the lesson is to encourage you to think like an inventor, practice the invention process and build empathy.

Pandemics require many resources, including personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to prevent infection. One type of PPE, face shields, creates a physical barrier between two people to reduce the transfer of a disease through the eyes, nose and mouth. Face shields don’t always properly fit people of all shapes, sizes and ages, especially infants. That is where you as the inventor will use the invention process to solve problems and save lives.


The response to stop the spread of COVID-19 has prompted a wide range of creative and inventive solutions. In this lesson, you’ll learn about “The Shield Team” made up of teachers, students and makers from across the country who are 3D printing face shields for health care workers, as well as what universities are doing to create life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE).

Stanford University bioengineering associate professor Manu Prakash, whose work has long-focused on innovative, low-cost medical devices, started an open source project to modify full-face snorkel masks into reusable PPE for health care workers. To find out more, read How universities are developing COVID-19 solutions in real time.

Essential question

How do new inventions in personal protective equipment (PPE) help reduce the spread of infectious diseases?

Estimated time





Engineering, Technology, Design, Medicine

Materials and resources:

Gather the following materials and resources. You may substitute when necessary or add to the list with items that you have available at home.

  • A ball that is about the size of an official “Softball” which is 12 inches in circumference
    • This ball will model an infant sized head for you to design and build to
  • Cardboard
  • Clean recycled materials (recommend 1 and 2 liter clear plastic bottles)
  • Elastic bands
  • Paper
  • Pencil or pen
  • Scissors
  • Tape (various types)
  • Internet access
  • Print or use online: Inventor’s Notebook
  • Print or use online: Infant breathing and possible suffocation
  • Print or use online: Good and bad of face shield designs


  • Clear plastic sheet, page protector or transparency sheet
  • Hot Glue (Use parent supervision and eye protection)
  • Foam or cloth padding materials
  • PLA (polylactic acid) filament if 3D printing is conducted in a well ventilated area.

Project vocabulary:

  • Beneficiary: Someone who benefits from the use of an invention
  • Circumference: The external boundary or surface of a figure or object
  • Constraint: A restriction or limitation
  • Device: Something made for a particular purpose
  • Face Shield: A mask made of clear plastic, that protects the eyes, nose, and mouth from splashes of blood, body fluids, excretions, or secretions.
  • Frontline Worker: Someone that is working in direct contact with danger
  • Innovation: Making changes to an existing product or device such that it is more useful
  • Invention: A new product or device that is useful and unique
  • Inventor: A person who invents a process, system or device for a particular use
  • PLA Filament: Polylactic acid material used by some 3D printers
  • Prototype: Functional draft of a product
  • System: Things that work together to accomplish a task


PBS NewsHour Classroom is always looking for ways to make our invention resources stronger. If you completed part or all of this lesson, we would greatly appreciate it if you filled out this feedback form.

Getting started (10 minutes)

REMINDER: The prototype is NOT to be tested on a real infant or person.

Read this PBS NewsHour story and answer the following question for the article in your Inventor’s Notebook in the “Explore it” section. (Teacher’s note: When you share the lesson with students, we recommend not including the cover image of the infant, as adorable as it is. It’s usually best not to show students a definitive design since they are sometimes apt to copy, even unintentionally.)

  1. What role does government play in the coronavirus pandemic?
  2. Why is it important for scientists to understand how COVID-19 affects people of all ages?

Watch this PBS NewsHour Classroom Video: 

Answer the following questions based on the video in your Inventor’s Notebook in the Explore it section.

  1. What are some of the problems that members of the Shield Team experienced early on?
  2. How did they overcome these problems?
  3. What features and materials were used in their design and why?
  4. How did the Shield Team increase its productivity and deliver thousands of shields?


You will now make an infant face shield using and recording steps of the invention process in your Inventor’s Notebook.

Think it (10 minutes)

  1. Identify problems associated with a specialized face shield for an infant. Consider:
    1. When is an infant face shield to be worn?
    2. How are infants typically positioned?

Explore it (10 minutes)

  1. Inventions that are useful and unique may be patentable by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  2. Read this 1941 US Patent for a plastic face guard for infants
    • What are features of this design that you could improve upon?
  3. Consider safety issues with infant breathing and possible suffocation
  4. Consider the good and bad of face shield designs  (grades 9-12)

Sketch it (15 minutes)

Brainstorm and hand draw potential solution(s) the problems you previously identified during “Think It”: You will draft a minimum of three potential solutions per problem.

Create it (30 minutes)

Use a decision making matrix to help you select your best solution(s). 

  1. Why is it beneficial to have multiple solutions before fabricating a prototype?
  2. Use the Softball sized ball you selected as the infant’s head.
  3. Physically construct your infant face shield prototype.
  4. Complete the “Create It” section of your Inventor’s Notebook
    • Paste a photo or draw your prototype into the “Create It” page.

Try it (10 minutes)

  1. Test your prototyped face shield on the ball (head) to see how it would function.  REMINDER: The prototype is NOT to be tested on a real infant or person.
  2. Thinking back to the criteria you had listed for your design:
    1. What about your design works well?
      1. Keep these features in your design!
    2. What about your design does not work well?
      1. Change or adjust these to improve your design

Sell it (10 Minutes)

Draft a list of what makes your infant face shield unique. These would be patent claims that make your product different from others. To learn more: Check out Patent Claims

  1. Showcase your invention and your list of “claims” to an audience. Use your Inventor’s Notebook to help share your ideas.
  2. Be sure to share your experience with PBS NewsHour Classroom (@NewsHourExtra) via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using #PBSInvention as your hashtag.

Extension activity:

During long shifts nurses and other medical professionals wear surgical masks that have elastics that wrap around their ears. The elastic applies constant pressure resulting in severe skin irritation. Can you invent a device that would relieve the pressure that the elastic puts around on the nurse’s ears while they are wearing a surgical mask? Design and build a prototype that allows nurses and other medical professionals to tightly wear the mask, while taking the pressure of the elastic off the back of their ears.


MADESE Engineering Standards tied to NGSS: HS-ETS 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-5, 1-6, 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, 2-4

Common Core Standards: Common Core HS Social Studies and Technology 

CC ELA: Reading 1, 7.  Writing 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 10. Speak/Listen 1, 4, 5. Language 1, 2, 4, 6

Doug Scott teaches Robotics and Information Technology at Hopkinton High School in Massachusetts and is a member of NewsHour Classroom’s invention education advisory board. Doug started off as a business undergraduate student at Framingham State University, but was always a lifelong inventor at heart. Doug’s 17-year teaching career sprung from his hockey coaching experiences, which have been instrumental in helping him motivate students through the inventing processes. Doug and the Natick High School InvenTeam participated in the Lemelson-MIT Program’s EurekaFest in 2013. In the spring of 2014, Doug accompanied two student representatives from Natick to the fourth White House Science Fair. Just a few years later, their invention was awarded U.S. Patent
US9511833B2. Doug was awarded the 2014 Massachusetts STEM Teacher of the Year and continues to be an advocate for invention education for all. He was a Massachusetts finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Follow Doug on Twitter @mrscottbot

Kathy Hoppe, editor of this lesson and member of NewsHour Classroom’s invention education advisory board, is currently an education consultant at STEMisED and a former education associate at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in the Office of Education and Outreach. Kathy has over 30 years of teaching experience and was a STEM/Science Instructional Specialist and Director for the Elementary Science Program at Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES in Spencerport, New York. She also taught AP Biology, Regents Biology and Intermediate Level Science at Kendall Junior Senior High School and served as a Regional Biology Mentor and STANYS Director at Large for Biology and Professional Development.  Kathy is a former Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator (2013-15) who was placed at the National Science Foundation in the Directorate of Engineering, Division of Engineering Education and Centers.