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 Id 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 thats
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. chairand he was also involved with MWM, Jim
Sullivanand 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 wed always talked about in science, but its 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 thats 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 its 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 dont always
work. Because if you havent got a recipe lab set up, there will be failures, and thats
been a key issue I think. Ultimately Ive asked them to make a big presentation at the
end, and show the work that they have done. And what Ive 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 its quite funny to see in a way because you dont
often see people very excited about the failures that theyve made, and thats
really something that surprised me, but theyre very proud of the work that theyve
done. From the students point of view thats been the most fascinating development,
and its 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-centeredand
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 its 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 its 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 didnt 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 its 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 wouldnt 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 its a very
doable trip. Its very easy to get a lot out in a short period of time, its quite
close to our school, and its good for students to just be in this environment, the
higher education environment, theyre almost there anyway, so its a good experience
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 dont 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 thats pretty much
whats 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 wont
see them again. And thats fine, and thats great for the kids to be able to talk,
and thats whats happening, really, having the opportunity to speak to professors.
PC: Well I certainly enjoyed having this session, listening to all the exciting
activities youve had in your class, and I certainly wish you continual success and
expansion of what you do at Lake Forest High School. And if youd like to contact
Kate Heroux, shed be more than delighted to have you talk with her either by telephone
or Internet, as well as the folks at MWM. If youre interested in launching a class
such as what Kate has described, by all means contact us (at MWM), and well be happy
to help. So thank you again, and goodbye.
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