Benefitting from MWM Professional Development Workshops
"This workshop [on the Sports Materials Module] was a pleasure. The instructor was knowledgeable and fun. I look forward to implementing what I've learned [in my classroom]." - Middle School Science Teacher, Hudson County, New Jersey
Aligning to Standards
"The [MWM Program] design project meets local and state standards as well as the skills of life. Students enjoy the project."
"MWM provides an essential resource for real-world applications for concepts in AP chemistry."
Engaging Student-Centered Learning and Improving Retention
"No matter how many times I explain, I always have an ’I don't get it’ response. After these activities, everybody had some knowledge they wanted to share. I would say again how much difference there is in ‘teaching’ and ’allowing the students to learn.’ I was amazed at the way all of the students, even the ones I had little hope for, got involved and retained what they studied. It was the retention that was perhaps most impressive. I can often engage them by entertaining, but in this instance, they entertained themselves and actually remembered the material."
A Total MWM Experience With Lake Forest High School Teacher Kate Heroux
In this interview with science teacher Kate Heroux, Professor Robert Chang, the developer of MWM, discusses the successes and challenges of implementing the Materials World Modules in high school. From issues of scheduling, interacting with administration and colleagues, and student reactions, to integrating the modules into current curricula, this interview presents an experienced look inside MWM.
Transcript of the Interview
A Total MWM Experience With Lake Forest High School Teacher Kate Heroux
Professor Robert Chang (PC) of Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois talks with Kate Heroux (KH), of Lake Forest High School in Lake Forest Illinois.
PC: I am delighted to be here with you to introduce Kate Heroux, science teacher at the Lake Forest High School. And Kate, can you please tell us how long you have been working at Lake Forest?
KH: I have been teaching science at Lake Forest now, this will be my seventh year.
PC: Specifically, what do you do there? And maybe you can tell us when you started working for the MWM modules program?
KH: At Lake Forest I teach chemistry, and I also have taught earth science, but in the last two years, this is my second year of teaching a Materials Science module. It has grown out of work I’d started with MWM, about six years ago, and I was invited to collaborate on the Materials and Environment food packaging module with several other teachers, and that’s how it began, and how we met.
PC: Recently we have learned that you started an unusual, perhaps one of a kind, course, using Materials World Modules concepts and content, perhaps to launch a new course in materials science or technology…could you briefly describe what it is you are doing?
KH: Well the class is a one semester class only for seniors, and we struggled in a way to incorporate the Materials World Modules into regular science classes. I was doing some during chemistry classes and also some biology teachers were incorporating some of the other modules into their biology classes. But it was apparent that although it touched on certain aspects of the curriculum, it was really selling MWM short to do it that way, to try and cram in something that really was unto itself a learning experience, different from other classes. So I talked with my dept. chair—and he was also involved with MWM, Jim Sullivan—and he and I came up with the idea of creating a class that was for materials science, using as a basis the MWM modules and making it very open-ended, totally student centered in a way that we’d always talked about in science, but it’s a very difficult thing to achieve, generally. We spent a year preparing to launch this class, we had to write proposals, and look into the scheduling of students, and the other issue we had was the supplies and materials, that is something I have been picking up as time went along. I did order all the kits for all the modules, and have used a lot of those materials in different ways, depending on what the students chose as their projects.
PC: Perhaps you can tell us some of the exciting features of this course. I imagine this is a course that’s out of the norm, right?
KH: I think probably the most exciting thing about this class as far as the students are concerned is that they are expected to work independently and come up with their own problems to solve, essentially, after the beginning introduction to the philosophy of the class, so that they understand what the class is about. And I think it’s a big departure from a traditional science class, and it takes them a while before they realize the autonomy that they actually do have here. And they also come to realize that things don’t always work. Because if you haven’t got a recipe lab set up, there will be failures, and that’s been a key issue I think. Ultimately I’ve asked them to make a big presentation at the end, and show the work that they have done. And what I’ve seen in that experience is that they discuss their failures, that is part of the story, and that is what they really spend a lot of time on, and it’s quite funny to see in a way because you don’t often see people very excited about the failures that they’ve made, and that’s really something that surprised me, but they’re very proud of the work that they’ve done. From the students’ point of view that’s been the most fascinating development, and it’s something I wish we could do earlier with students, and hopefully we will, and hopefully this is something that will be brought in and sort of change the culture generally across the board.
PC: Could you give our audience some pointers as to how to launch such a class in a public high school, what kind of issues they have to go through to allow you to try something like this.
KH: The class is almost a textbook example of the way we hope to teach science, on paper. And because of that, the idea of problem solving, open-ended inquiry, student-centered—and the students design and build and test their own products and they then redesign and improve and then they present to a group of people who are either experts in the field, mostly we have staff, other teachers who came to see the presentations, but also a lot of community members and the board of education.
On paper it’s easy to have professional people recognize the value here, that this is really what the national standards are really all about. The challenge here, in terms of educating colleagues and the board of Ed, and administration, was more to do with, what is materials science? Not so much the aim of the class, but what was this actual subject? People were aware of the research into the reason why, and so of course we could talk about materials science in that capacity, and then the American swim team had just developed a new material for their swimsuits and that was another thing people could connect to, so it was very easy to make connections for people, but that was probably the biggest education challenge that we had in terms of people appreciating what the class was going to be about.
The schedule, high school schedules, timetables, are packed already, and to introduce a new class we had to eliminate an old class to get a new class, and what we ended up doing was honors geology class we offer every other year. I mean it gets down to the nitty gritty, but the timetabling was another problem we had to be creative about. And also it’s easier to timetable something for seniors only, because oftentimes their schedules are more flexible. They tend to pack their schedules in their early years with the idea of leaving themselves more time when they are seniors, so there was more time for that group of people. The other thing was teacher territory, and students electing to take this class rather than some other class, and that class fading and dying, but that didn’t happen either, because this was something additional, for seniors, and only one semester. In actual fact our selections for our science opportunities for one semester are very limited so it was a good addition in that sense because a one semester course means that they can take another semester of anatomy, or one of the few other classes that is offered in a one semester block. I would say the schedule and practical implications, and also a room to do this work in was another problem, but we now have built a new lab so we have space, and it’s quite a large lab so we have space for some of these materials, and one of the things that I have for this class that I wouldn’t have for a regular sized class is a work table where things can be cut
or drilled or hammered or something, because sometimes we have to do that kind of thing.
PC: I recall that in the fall and the spring you have brought some of your students to Northwestern University to interact with the professors here, in terms of asking some questions that they have relating to their project design. In your opinion how did the students feel about these interactions and visits?
KH: I think they enjoyed themselves, and I know, depending on the group, and what the group had chosen as its project, where we could find relevant information it was extremely helpful. For example the bulletproof glass group was quite fascinated with the testing apparatus for strength that you have here. I think you gave us some Lexan [check spelling], they were very thrilled to be getting the material from professors. We found that it’s a very doable trip. It’s very easy to get a lot out in a short period of time, it’s quite close to our school, and it’s good for students to just be in this environment, the higher education environment, they’re almost there anyway, so it’s a good experience for them.
PC: I just want to know, in addition to your interaction with people here at Northwestern, do other science teachers have a lot of interactions with college or university professors?
KH: No, I don’t think they do. I have worked with Lake Forest College on a few things, and they were helpful. What has happened through this class is, through the Internet, students have talked with people all over the world, and many many times they are professors, or they are researchers in a particular field and often in England or New Zealand, Canada, and these types of universities whose focus on research might be polymers or something, and so the beauty of the Internet is that anyone can talk to anyone, and that’s pretty much what’s happened. This is an ongoing continually growing experience, and often somebody will help a group of students on a particular issue and then that will be it, we won’t see them again. And that’s fine, and that’s great for the kids to be able to talk, and that’s what’s happening, really, having the opportunity to speak to professors.
PC: Well I certainly enjoyed having this session, listening to all the exciting activities you’ve had in your class, and I certainly wish you continual success and expansion of what you do at Lake Forest High School. And if you’d like to contact Kate Heroux, she’d be more than delighted to have you talk with her either by telephone or Internet, as well as the folks at MWM. If you’re interested in launching a class such as what Kate has described, by all means contact us (at MWM), and we’ll be happy to help. So thank you again, and goodbye.
~~~ Transcript ends ~~~
Lake Forest High School, Lake Forest, IL
Tel: (847)234-3600 ext#5301