Material science – particularly when it comes to graphene – is a goldmine of potential for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) communicators. It influences virtually all areas of our lives in the most fascinating ways.
Here at the museum, we’ve teamed with Greater Manchester Higher on a brilliant project. We challenged outreach groups from the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, and the National Graphene Institute to develop classroom activities for Key Stage 3 students.
The groups had two main criteria: firstly, to link their activities to Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond, our popular exhibition about modern material science, and secondly, ultimately, make them fun!
The outcome of the exercise is a brilliant resource box: seven hands-on activities, guidance documents for delivery, profiles of scientists working in related fields, and outlines of potential careers that the students might pursue.
Each activity is designed to link to one of graphene’s incredible material properties.
Polarizing Light, for example, links to graphene’s amazing optical properties, and allows students to twist and separate light, creating psychedelic portraits of their friends.
Chocolate Break is the example alluded to in the title. This activity challenges students to explore how a material’s structure dictates its fracture toughness. The twist? They’ll be smashing up chocolate!
A swinging guillotine crashes into the chocolate, registering its fracture toughness on a meter. Students have to predict and test how the structures of different chocolates affect this strength, before using their findings to create solutions and inventions for real-life application.
This may also be the only science investigation where students can eat their experiment afterwards. You don’t get that with PH tests!
From investigations to games, competitions to challenges, the activities are designed to give teachers and STEM ambassadors a resource that students will have fun with. The activities are cross-curricular too, moving away from isolating subjects into silos. This reflects the professional environment that students will move in to – projects built in teams, utilising different disciplines, in creative ways.
“[They’re] excellent resources that are easy to use and follow. Students engage with them and they help consolidate their knowledge of the topic. It also helps visualise real-world scenarios and experiments, and link them to the curriculum in a fantastic and exciting way.”
Key Stage 3 teacher
We’ve produced 50 of the resource boxes. Most have been distributed for free to local schools with teachers receiving continuing professional development (CPD) training sessions from scientists in order to deliver the activities. The museum has also retained a number, offering schools the opportunity to book a STEM ambassador to deliver a session on our site. The remaining boxes will travel with Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond once it goes on tour.
The project has been a great collaboration among different groups across Manchester and best of all, it will have a legacy – the activities will be adapted, becoming downloadable digital resources, accessible to all.
“It has allowed us to approach previously dry topics in a novel way as funds would not allow.”
Key Stage 3 teacher