Using the Composites Module in the High School Chemistry Classroom
About Renee and her class
Renee teaches chemistry at a suburban high school near Chicago . She used the Composites
Module with her advanced sophomore chemistry/physics class in the first few weeks of the
fall semester. She had taught the Composites Module once before during the previous year
and attended a summer workshop on the Materials World Modules prior to her initial use.
The chemistry/physics class met for a double period (93 minutes) and alternated between
one day of physics and one day of chemistry. However, due to extenuating circumstances unrelated
to MWM, for this particular project, the class met every day for about a week.
The class is one of four accelerated sophomore chemistry/physics classes. In each class,
students worked in their regular lab groups of three, which the students had selected at
the beginning of the school year.
» Renee Implements The
» Students Present The Steps Of Their
» Renee Assesses Student Performance
» Renee's Philosophy On Extra Credit
Renee Implements The Composites Module
Renee spent quite a bit of time on the initial activities, in part
because she allowed her students to come up with their own testing procedures for several
of the activities. In all, she spent two and a half days on the initial activities, and two
and a half days on the design project.
Tuesday , Renee introduced the module and had students do the
ice composite demo activity and the composite hunt. Towards the end of the period,
students cut and glued foam beams that would be used the following day.
Wednesday , students did the strength and stiffness and foam composite activities.
Thursday , Renee ran the optional geometric reinforcement activity, where students
explore how the direction of fibers in fiber-reinforced tape affects the strength and
stiffness of the foam beams used on Wednesday. Towards the end of the period, Renee
introduced the design project, and gave groups about twenty minutes to begin brainstorming
Friday was the primary design building and testing day. Groups came to class
with materials and often shared materials with other groups. Students were also very
willing to share their ideas with each other. Students did not make formal presentations
of their designs, but did write on the board which of their designs worked or didn't
Monday , students had a half-period to build and test their redesigns. (The
other half of the period was devoted to physics.) Several students stayed late to finish
testing their designs, including one group that produced the best performing design
of any in Renee's classes.
After the redesign was complete, students had a few days to document their
reflections in their lab journals, which were turned in towards the end of the week.
[ Back to top ]
Students Present The Steps Of Their Design Project
The group of Ellen, Lisa, and Carrie explored several design ideas, especially during the
first day of building (Friday). Through these video clips linked below, you can track their
progress as they consider various ideas. (Real Player required)
On Thursday, the group brainstormed some
materials, including plastic rods, wires, and clay. Thursday night, Lisa
went to Tom Thumb,
a local art supply store, to buy some of these materials.
Friday, the group inventoried
the materials they
had collected overnight, and discussed their design ideas with another group. The first
design they built used a plastic rod and wire inside the straw and duct tape around the
outside. This design
but when the group tested it, they felt it was not flexible enough; the pole bent under
a load and did not return to its original shape.
Prior to building their second design, the group considered several alternative materials, including clay.
Renee suggested that they see what other groups were using as well.
a piece of fiber optic cable in place of some of the wire, which they had determined was
at fault in the performance of their first design. Their third
the day used wood skewers instead of the fiber optic cable. These designs, too, had trouble
with the flexibility test, although this was due in part to the group's apparent misunderstanding
that the pole had to return to exactly level - actually, it could return to within 1 cm
of level. (See the cantilever
an example of how the students tested their designs.)
[ Back to top ]
Renee Assesses Student Performance
Renee used a 25 point rubric to assess her students' performance
during the Composites Module. In addition, she offered five extra credit points to the one
group out of all four of her classes that produced the best design and two extra credit points
to each student in the class that produced the best design.
[ Back to top ]
Renee's Philosophy On Extra Credit With MWM
Many teachers who use the Materials World Modules use extra credit points as a prize for
the group that produces the best overall design.
Offering extra credit motivates many students to strive for the best design. However, this
increased competition also tends to reduce the amount of communication among groups, because
students do not want to give away their "trade secrets." As a result, students
do not participate in the exchange of scientific ideas and cannot learn from each other as
easily as when the exchange of information is encouraged.
Renee tried to address this issue when she designed her assessment method for the Composites
Module. The first year she used the module, she gave extra credit to the group with the best
design across all of her classes. She felt that this had resulted in little sharing of ideas
and wanted to devise a method to motivate students without stifling communication.
What she did was to offer five extra credit points (the project was worth 25 points total)
to the group with the best design in all here classes, but also to promise two extra credit
points to everyone in the class from which the best design came. This approach did appear
to be successful in getting students within a class to work together and share ideas.
Click here to see a video clip of Renee
explains her extra credit scheme (Real
[ Back to top ]