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Math Teacher Tomeka Whitfield, Edison Middle School, displays her packaged potato from the Food Packaging Material World Module during a workshop at ERDC Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in March.

Math Teacher Tomeka Whitfield, Edison Middle School, displays her packaged potato from the Food Packaging Material World Module during a workshop at ERDC Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in March. (Photo by Dana Finney, ERDC PAO)

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Posted 5/17/2013

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill.—ERDC’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) supported two training modules for a group of local math and science teachers who participated in workshops under the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program.  The workshops “teach the teachers” how to use different tools in their classrooms to encourage students’ interest through hands-on experiences.  Action officer John Mudrick organized the event.

Fourteen teachers took part in the workshops, where they chose either Food Packaging, in which is a Material World Module (MWM) kit, or Middle School Acoustics, which is a National Defense Education Program Module kit.  Each STEM session includes discussion time followed by a laboratory design challenge.

The Food Packaging course was led by Carl Fornell, an instructor with the National Center for the Advancement of STEM Education (nCASE).  It provided a look at how different types of foods could be packaged for transport and storage, how the packaging is insulated, and the packages’ potential to be recycled.  The design challenge was to develop packaging for a baked potato delivery service that would allow proper protection and insulation.  CERL’s Susan Drozdz, a career scientist working in a STEM profession, supported the course.

As a science teacher for grades six through eight at Atwood-Hammond Middle School, Tim Manselle said, “We probably will not go as in-depth for students at this level, but the overarching theme will be ‘why is there plastic packaging around vegetables, for example?’  It will be a way to investigate the point of packaging and protecting things we use every day.”

Tomeka Whitfield is an innovative mathematics teacher at Champaign’s Edison Middle School, which has a program called Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID).  While packaging may seem a bit out of the realm of math, she plans to have her Friday AVID students focus on determining, quantitatively, properties such as volume and surface area of the packaged goods.  “This can be used as a hands-on, real-world application for learning math,” she said.

Dr. Michelle Swearingen was the subject matter expert for the second workshop, Acoustics and also gave a presentation on her ERDC acoustics research.  The course was led by nCASE instructor Stu Schultz.  This module is a different format from the MWM modules, in that the material is all presented via a website.  Five different learning modules are available, two for middle school, two for high school, and one bridging both age groups. During the training, the teachers explored the “Science of Sound” middle school module in detail.  This included learning about the physical properties of sound, including explorations into resonance using pendulums and tuning forks.  Selected topics from the other modules were also presented, including a measurement of the speed of sound.  “The design challenge for this module was to create a soundproof box for a cell phone.  In addition to reducing the sound of a ringing cell phone, the box had to be lightweight and easy to use,” Swearingen said.

CERL STEM teacher training