How to introduce Materials Science in Secondary Schools

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In the last two years ICMA has organised different activities in order to provide tools to facilitate how to introduce Materials Science in Secondary Schools. They are based in a strong collaboration between researchers and Secondary School teachers, with particular activities designed for teachers training. Work with students is based in the use of different experiments that are complementary with traditional activities like lectures. The work in the last two years has been based in two subjects; applications of liquid crystals and superconductors. Researchers and teachers collaboration has also been used to define evaluation protocols, analysing how the response of students has been and where additional level adaptation is required. All the materials are the seed of a materials bank that can be found at the web page and that will increase with future actions. In addition, the Spanish Material Society also collaborates, which provides a higher possibility of dissemination.

Secondary School teachers are the key to increase the scientific level of young people. The activities developed in the last two years show that researchers and teachers collaboration can lead to design new outreach activities and have shown the importance of defining particular activities to improve teachers training.
The Materials Science Institute of Aragón (ICMA) is a joint Institute of the University of Zaragoza and the Spanish Research Council. In 2004 we started to organise outreach activities with three main objectives; to make research at ICMA known by the society, to facilitate the introduction of Materials Science in Secondary Schools and to produce a wide collection of outreach materials. In these activities the collaboration with Secondary School teachers has been essential.
In 2010 we organised the second edition of the SOCIEMAT Materials School. SOCIEMAT is the Spanish Materials Society and asked the ICMA to organise this edition with an objective, to define a protocol to introduce materials in Secondary Educational levels. A researchers and teachers coordinating group was created and we decided that the project had to be based in the following points; usually outreach activities are designed thinking on students and teachers are often forgiven, and the second one, it is important to change the way materials science is introduced, students has to experiment with materials. This school was focused on Applications of Liquid Crystals. It begun with a workshop in which scientist worked with Secondary School teachers the fundamentals of the main applications of Liquid Crystals. After that, there were some discussions in order to define subjects that could be worked with students of different levels. Four subjects were selected; LCD screens, liquid crystal thermometers, electro optical devices (intelligent glasses and welding screens) and high resistance fibres. After that, four working groups were created with teachers and researchers in order to elaborate a poster and define some experiments that could be done done with students. All of the were tested with students before making the final version.
These materials are now available for any teacher that wants to use them with their students at the SOCIEMAT web page ( and in the web page of ICMA and they are the initial step to create a resource bank of materials that can be increased in different editions of the School.
In 2011, ICMA has been organising different activities to commemorate the centenary of the superconductivity in an outreach project founded by the Spanish FECYT. Obviously this subject has the problem of using liquid nitrogen to perform any activity with students. For this reason the way to work with this subject is different that the previous one used in the Second SOCIEMAT Materials School. In this case, in collaboration with the Ibercaja Virtual Laboratory, we have created an application where different activities are proposed to the students in order to introduce them some applications of superconducting materials. This application is free and can be reached at In this web page, teachers also can found some materials especially designed for them. This application was opened at the end of October 2011 and since that it has ben used 280 times.
Related with this application, an exposition, called “Centenary of superconductivity: Quantum world to kilometric scale” was the central activity. It has been possible to visit it in three places in Zaragoza and in the next two months it will be opened in two other cities: Huesca and Teruel. A visit of 90 minutes was offered to Secondary Schools 45 minutes with a researcher of ICMA that explained the students the exposition and 45 minutes to work with experiments related with superconducting materials (compare the temperature dependence of the electrical resistivity in superconductors and metals, observe the different cooling regimes of liquid nitrogen, levitation in superconductors). Brochure and exposition posters contents can be observed at the supporting document.
In principle, we offered 4 days with 3 groups of 25 students every day. In order to be able to give a response to the demand, this activity had to be extended for 11 days in 33 sessions. Finally 864 students visited the exposition in Zaragoza and 500 more will visit it in the next month. After each session, teachers are asked to evaluate the activity. Up to now, the average qualification obtained by this activity was 9.5 points, being 10 points the maximum qualification.
In some evenings, special sessions devoted to general public were also offered. They were complemented with some sessions required for different associations and adult schools. 7 sessions were organised approximately 150 persons attended that. In addition near 400 persons visited the exposition during the opening days.
Obviously, these activities are complementary of other more traditional ones in which the main objective is to bring the researchers closer to the students. Each year ICMA organises between 10 to 15 lectures in Secondary Schools of different places of Aragón. One of the especial characteristics of these conferences is that they always include some experiments related with the subject. In order to achieve this, an outreach experiments bank and a brochure collection has been created in the last years. They cover most of the research lines at ICMA: Liquid crystals, superconductors, biomaterials, shape-memory materials, data optical storage, data magnetic storage, magnetic refrigeration, X-ray diffraction, Fuel cells, nanophotonics. All of them are available at
After each activity, teachers evaluate it, taking into account if the level is adequate for the students and how the response of the students was. At the end of each year, there is a meeting between coordinators of these activities in the Secondary Schools and the coordination persons at ICMA in order to detect which activities has to be improved, in particular, regarding to the fact that the level is adequate for the students. These meetings also are used to define new activities for the following year. For instance, for the next year a new activity has been proposed. Think in one or two subjects related with materials science and design how to work them with students of different levels (elementary schools, secondary schools and students that are going to start the University next year).



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