By Helen Widman
In just 18 months, Maria Tamez, K-8 English Language Learner (ELL) teacher for Amelia Earhart Elementary-Middle School in Detroit, Michigan, transformed the way her students digest and think about science. Before the 2021-2022 school year, Tamez was approached by the school’s principal about improving test scores and improving the students’ learning experience. Luckily for Tamez, she learned about the Ceramic and Glass Industry Foundation (CGIF) Materials Science Kits, applied for a free teacher kit and changed the lives of her students for the better.
“The kids are interested and they contribute. They have questions and they are engaged in doing these activities. It’s a very rare, gratifying, exciting journey! It’s exciting just to do these experiments,” Tamez says.
At first, Tamez was overwhelmed by the idea of trying something she was unfamiliar with. Materials science isn’t a required course in many curriculums, and she hadn’t taught it before. After receiving the materials and seeing what the kits had to offer her and her students, she quickly realized that she had made the right decision by using the CGIF science kits.
“I can tell the difference from the beginning,” she says. “Now it’s like, ‘This is a lot of fun.’ Because the kids are doing the science and I am facilitating that but we’re all learning. It is amazing.”
Tamez recalls the first activity that she did with her students: Candy Fiber Pull. During this demo, Jolly Ranchers® are melted until they reach a molten state and candy fibers are pulled from the beaker with a wooden dowel. When a fiber is pulled, it cools almost instantly, simulating the production of glass-like fibers. Tamez says all of the students enjoyed every moment of the hands-on exploration and were eager to move onto the next lessons.
She also reminisces about the unforgettable learning experience that she and her students had while exploring the nuances of concrete through the Engineered Concrete activity. This is a lesson that involves the reinforcement of concrete using various materials to assess their strength and durability. In Tamez’s class, students thought to add salt and other materials to the mix, making the experiment their own. For this activity, the class took the concrete outside the classroom to test and record how the different items added to the concrete affected their strength when dropped from different heights.
Tamez also appreciates the opportunity for students to connect materials science to objects they see in their daily life. Some of her students recognized the copper wire and concrete from parents who work in construction. Tamez says that using the CGIF kits is an opportunity to have students explore materials that are in the environment around them.
“English learners benefit a lot from this type of kit because they start to see not only the science but the language that is connected between English and Spanish. So when we talk about chrome, copper and atoms, all those words, we have them in Spanish too. We make those connections so that it helps their language and deepens their knowledge of learning concepts,” Tamez says. “I’m just very excited because I see my students having questions and doing the experiments and they’re interested. And I believe that this is also an opportunity they haven’t had before when doing science.”
This aspect of the CGIF science kits is particularly important for Tamez. Many of the students that she teaches are bilingual, and she has used the kits to teach the lessons in Spanish and English. The CGIF is currently working on translating all of the science lessons into different languages to increase accessibility for all students and teachers. Tamez says the cognates between English and Spanish help students connect dots between words and concepts and prepare them for words they will likely hear again in high school level science classes.
Tamez encourages other teachers to try the science kits in hopes that they have the experience she has had.
“They have to try it. They have to do it,” Tamez says. “I think that this is a great opportunity for teachers to teach something that is valuable. Because this is not taught in schools. In all my years of teaching, I’ve never seen this type of science offered in schools.”
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