Education: Middle School Program Immerses Students in Science and Engineering Activities

The MRSEC at MIT operates a one-week science and engineering program for rising 7th and 8th grade students from a local Cambridge school and their science teacher. Objectives of the program are to enthuse students about science and engineering, introduce them to the field of materials science and engineering, and give them an opportunity to experience science in a university environment. Small group activities encourage collaborative work. All classes involve hands-on work led by technical staff, graduate students, and undergraduates During the five days on campus, the participants learn about physics, chemistry, circuitry, and materials science and engineering by trying their hands at glassblowing, metal casting, building mini traffic lights and simple motors, constructing solar cells, exploring polymers, and making liquid nitrogen ice cream.

The middle school program has run continuously since 1992, reaching a total of approximately 350 students from four different schools. Underrepresented minority students comprise about 50% of the enrollment at all of the schools. Beyond the student participants, the teachers who have attended collect material for their classroom teaching. The program also provides the graduate students and undergraduates opportunities to refine their teaching and presentation skills.

Participants complete entrance and exit surveys. The feedback they provide indicates that most arrive with no knowledge of the term “materials science,” but leave with a sense of what it means. The students refer to the overall program as fun and most report that they would definitely recommend it to friends. The most common suggestion for improvement is that it be longer.