|As part of an engineering design project for the MWM Dye Solar Cells Module, Eleventh-grade Qatari students use censors to create a smart garbage can that opens by itself.|
Staff members of the Materials Research Institute at Northwestern University anticipate the visit to Qatar in late February to be even more fruitful than the first two.
Senior content developer Matthew Hsu will come into contact with 200-300 10th- and 11th-grade students at eight schools. His goals are threefold: provide more teacher training, introduce new Materials World Modules (MWM) curricula, and build upon the science-based inquiry and engineering design principles he introduced to Qatari schools in 2011.
“The first time I went, the design projects were very new to students,” Hsu said. “At the beginning they were very fearful, very apprehensive. Also they were worried about presenting their projects in English. Now they will be more comfortable, and it will be easier for them to succeed.”
He expects a paramount distinction this time around to be that since students understand the MWM process, engineering design ideas will begin percolating when the materials science concepts are first introduced. The MWM curricula typically begin with games or other attention-grabbers before students complete a successive number of inquiry-based activities. The units, which typically last two weeks, culminate with design projects so a student wears the hat of both scientist and engineer.
“This program is especially meaningful because it allows us to do a vertically-integrated study of students’ progression from middle school all the way through college,” MWM Program Director R.P.H. Chang said.
The ultimate goal of the program is to encourage more students in the study of materials science, which is much needed in high-tech fields. The program’s 16 modules provide authentic learning in materials science, which naturally lends itself to interdisciplinary studies. The polymers module, for example, is rooted in concepts of chemistry, biology and life sciences, mathematics, physics and physical sciences, geology and earth science, technical education, and language arts. The unit consummates with a humidity sensor design project.
Besides the interdisciplinary nature of the modules, it’s the real world applications that separate the projects from what is typically seen in the classroom, Hsu said.
Qatari students were taught units of learning mostly in topics of polymers, composites, and nanotechnology during the first two visits. This time around, Hsu will implement newer MWM modules, such as Drug Delivery at the Nanoscale and Dye Sensitized Solar Cells.
The idea is to pique students’ interest by investigating and designing with cutting-edge technology.
“I think human beings are naturally creative and curious, and we want to promote that wherever we go,” Hsu said.