By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – Melvindale High School teacher Terry Ann Laesser was recognized as one of 10 Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year 2021 recipients for her work with underserved and underrepresented students.
The award recognizes outstanding teachers who promote diversity and inclusion in computer science and robotics.
Each award-winning teacher’s school receives $25,000 to expand its computer science and robotics education programs, and the teacher receives a $5,000 award.
Laesser, who has taught at Melvindale High School for five years, currently teaches physical science, which is mostly hands-on physics learning, and advanced placement computer science, which is in conjunction with the University of Detroit Mercy, so the students are getting college credit without leaving the school.
Laesser is also one of the robotic team coaches.
“Everything I do is project-based and hands-on, which was really challenging in the last year,” she said. “It took a lot more work, but the kids still did it. They built catapults, and they built egg landers.”
Laesser said it was challenging, but it was fun to see the videos the parents shot of the students doing the experiments.
“I absolutely told students, ‘Do not climb on your garage roofs, but you have to drop this from a height of roughly 20 feet,’” she said. “That would be a second-story window, or getting someone to hold a ladder, and dropping it from there.”
Laesser said these were engineering design projects, so they had to brainstorm ideas, draw thing up and come up with a prototype, then test it and modify it.
“Supplies were always a problem, so I gave them all kinds of material ideas that they could use, anything you could find at home to do this,” she said. “You can use a peanut-butter jar, you can use toilet paper rolls.”
Laesser said with parents recording the students doing their experiments on camera phones, she got more parent involvement than ever before.
“It was really challenging to get the hands-on work done this year, but for A.P. computer science, I was teaching my students that were already on their computers, but they were learning everything about the internet, and they were learning to code and program and build the apps that we use on our phones,” she said. “So, that was a lot easier for me to see, because I use an online platform for that, so I can go into the student folders and see their work as they go.”
Laesser said students were able to work together online, as well, including in small groups, in virtual breakout rooms.
She said she hopes to use the award money to purchase some drones for her computer science curriculum.
“It is one thing to design apps and build them, and know that you can do that – it’s really cool – but it’s abstract,” Laesser said. “I want something that is tangible, that they can touch that is also lucrative for their future. App design is, but everything in our world now is digital, and eventually I would like to add a class on drones, but, for now, it is going to supplement the computer science curriculum.”
She hopes to teach students everything about drones, from flight traffic control, to Federal Aviation Administration regulations, and how to build and program a drone.
The drones Laesser hopes to order will have high-definition cameras on them and RGB LED lights.
RGB LED lights are red, green and blue light emitting diodes which can be used to product millions of hues.
“The students can then control them, either with their phones, or with their hands, with a wearable device,” she said.
Laesser said there are drone obstacle courses and competitions, as well.
Laesser said she is grateful for the award money, which will allow her to do so much more for her students.
“I can teach them computer science, and they can do things on the computer, but with the money, I can buy things to put in their hands,” she said. “For example, when they are doing CAD, with this money, we can get a CNC machine and another 3-D printer, and they can actually manufacture and fabricate the things that they are programming on computers, and they can see the end results of what they are designing.”
Laesser said for her students to be able to get the equipment to actually create what they are designing is important and exciting for them, especially for a community that is economically challenged.
She said she is appreciative of MHS Principal Ryan Vranesich’s nomination, which provided her with this opportunity.
“Ever since I started at Melvindale, I have been working really hard to build up a robust robotics and engineering program,” Laesser said. “It just keeps building every year, and this award is going to help add another layer to it. It’s going to be great.”
Victor Reinoso, global director for Amazon Future Engineer, and Amazon in the Community, said it has been an especially difficult year for teachers, so they are excited to recognize their hard work and commitment to student success.
“The Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award recipients work diligently to help students in underserved and underrepresented communities build life-changing skills to propel their futures in computer science,” he said. “We celebrate their tireless efforts to increase access to technology and computer literacy in their classroom and beyond.”