IMI is Working with MWM to Promote Materials Education Around the World Print E-mail

For the third time since spring of 2011, IMI-SEE is teaming up with Materials World Modules (MWM) to bring materials science education to students in Qatar.

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After building a scale-sized stadium, two students from Naser bin Abdullah School in Qatar design polymers to reduce humidity of such a stadium. The project was the culmination of the Polymers module curriculum.

“The purpose is that Qatar University and the government have invited us to work with their schools, teachers and students to strengthen their STEM education programs so there will be more students attending universities to study science and engineering,” said R.P.H. Chang, director of both IMI-SEE and MWM at Northwestern University.

In collaboration with scientists, researchers and educators, the NSF-funded MWM program has produced a series of modules on topics in materials science, from composites and biosensors to polymers and food packaging. Intended for middle school or high school, the curricula builds skills in science, technology, engineering and math to prepare students for future careers in materials research and development. The modules include games and other introductory attention-grabbers then build up to inquiry-based activities. The units, which typically last two weeks, culminate with design projects. For instance, students design their own fishing poles in the composites module or humidity sensors in the polymers module. Thus, students emulate the roles of both scientist and engineer.

The science-rich hands-on lessons and labs have already produced results around the world, from Chihuahua where thousands of Mexican students have been exposed to the modules, to Qatar. When Chang and MWM content developer Matthew Hsu of Northwestern University first visited the Qatar peninsula last May, the effect of the authentic science learning was significant.

The 25 secondary students who participated in the program showed improved attitudes toward science and research. Moreover, the students’ parents and teachers indicated that they became more cooperative and organized, and showed more interest in going to school. More specifically, the percentage of students who strongly agreed that their skills in scientific experiments rose from 48% to 72%. Those who agreed they were capable of invention also surged from 40% to 60%. Moreover, 63% of their teachers thought that their ability to solve problems increased.

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Two Qatari juniors attempt to make a ball that successfully goes through an obstacle course, as part of the MWM Sports Materials Module.

The second visit was more extensive, as about 300 11th-graders at 13 secondary schools participated. Hsu saw similar results. Students made gains in key concepts, such as nanotechnology, polymers, and composites. For instance, scores of 36 students increased a standard deviation of 1.12—an equivalent to about one whole grade, such as a “C” to a “B”—from the pre- to post-tests for each of the three modules.

Students were immediately engaged from the first week and by the end of the units were empowered to independently design. This was apparent in the biodegradable materials unit when students wanted to go beyond making a biodegradable medicinal capsule. A handful of students wanted to create a biodegradable flower pot, which they planned to pursue outside of the classroom, Hsu said. Even reluctant students who attempted to do the bare minimum learned a lot about the concepts and were met with success.

Fatima Ali, along with classmates Jazi al-Kuwari and Mariam al-Kuwari from Al-Resala Independent Secondary School for Girls, created a solar cell that operates small electrical devices.

“The sun is a renewable and sustainable source of energy,” Fatima said. “It is the future of our planet if we learn how to use it wisely and scientifically. In this way, we were able to successfully operate an alarm clock and a small toy. Expanding this concept will ensure our children’s future.”

Hsu, who will revisit Qatar this February, said that very few students across the world have really experimented with dye solar cells.

“These kids were the first ones in Qatar to experience this cutting-edge technology,” he said.

Last Updated on Monday, February 27 2012 15:31