The main thrust of the MWM Program is to engage students in making sense of the rich tapestry of materials that surround them and to provide an opportunity to create new materials or fabrics for our world. The Materials World Modules create an environment of scientific inquiry within a design context involving material objects; students ponder design problems that scientists and engineers encounter every day in the workplace. Incorporating inquiry within a materials design context helps to provide purpose and structure in the learning of underlying scientific concepts.
Why Study Materials?
Throughout much of human history, progress has been defined by advances in the materials human society uses, such as during the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. Today, in every sector of human activity, materials continue to impact all fronts of society and significantly enhance the quality of life.
The “concrete” nature of materials makes abstract concepts more accessible, memorable, and intuitive for students. Learners of all ages can readily grasp that making a better tool - one that is cheaper, lighter, stronger, faster, or safer for the environment - often means using a different material to make that tool.
Materials are constantly concocted or invented to meet the demands of science and society. We can make synthetic skin, blood, and bone. We can make information superhighways from glass. We can make shields to protect planes that fly in and out of Earth's atmosphere. We can make materials that repair themselves, that swell and flex like muscles, that repel ink or paint and that capture the energy of the sun.
Today materials systems drive everything from mobile phones to medical diagnostics and advanced bio- and nanoscale materials are pushing the frontiers of science and technology in renewable energy, health care, environmental protection, high-speed communications and global security. Throughout the twenty-first century and beyond, materials will continue to enable technology that explores new frontiers, and develop more efficient and cleaner ways to power the world.
Scientific Inquiry and Engineering Design
An important construct of the MWM program is the use of scientific inquiry and engineering design. Since 1993, MWM modules have taught specific STEM concepts through student-directed inquiry, and then challenged students to demonstrate their understanding of these concepts by using them to design functional products. Today, the combined hands-on practice of scientific inquiry and engineering design is a key emphasis of the NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and essential for STEM integration. It demonstrates the interdependence of science and engineering, affords students the opportunity to apply math principles to science and engineering problems (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, 2010), and as the heart of the technology R&D cycle, helps students better understand the role of science and engineering in society and the economy. The practice of engineering design is described as especially important for increasing diversity in STEM because it is “inclusive of students who may have traditionally been marginalized in the science classroom or experienced science as not being relevant to their lives or future (NGSS Lead States, 2013).