Despite the prevalence of polymers in modern everyday life, there is little introduction to the topic in science education throughout primary or secondary schooling in the United States. Of the few states that do include polymer education, this is only found at the high school level, primarily in biology or chemistry. Over the past year, we have developed a graduate-student-run outreach initiative aimed at providing young students with an understanding and appreciation of this class of materials through the interactive teaching of polymer science with audience-appropriate language. Our lessons are developed to align with the Michigan State Education Standards (Michigan is an NGSS Lead State Partner), such that each lesson can be adapted to the vocabulary of the classroom, even across different grade levels and school curricula. Most importantly, each of our lessons has multiple hands-on activities to reiterate and reinforce the concepts taught through active learning. In teaching our graduate student volunteer instructors to research and understand the vocabulary of their audience, we also hope to encourage these future educators toward active and perceptive science teaching, which has been demonstrated to afford greater short- and long-term lesson retention among students. This in effect provides two motivations for our program: (1) making polymers relatable to young students, thereby providing them a foundation prior to their introduction into the curriculum, and (2) teaching the next generation of educators in polymer science how to communicate effectively with their classes. Our program has proven successful in its starting years, and herein we detail the pedagogy and evaluation of the initiative.
- Elementary/Middle School Science
- General Public
- Graduate Education/Research
- Hands-On Learning/Manipulatives
- High School/Introductory Chemistry