Orange County Educator Creates Hands-on Lessons to Connect Middle Schoolers with Principles of Scientific Thinking

HILLSBOROUGH — Inspired by his internship at LORD Corporation, GSK Kenan STEM Fellow Daniel Thayer designed and implemented an interactive lab for the eighth-grade curriculum that uses polymer science to explore chemical and physical reactions.

Thayer, an AIG specialist with Orange County Schools, spent three weeks this summer learning about various adhesives, gap fillers and their components in a lab at LORD as part of his 2019-20 Kenan fellowship. Following this experience, he developed a series of lessons that encourage students to explore chemical and physical changes.

Working in small groups, students make slime and experiment to see which component of the mixture is causing it to be the wrong consistency. The students must test different variables of the mixture and document their observations. The slime project teaches students about chemical change. Students also explored physical changes using an experiment with a non-newtonian fluid (oobleck). A goal of each of the lessons is to introduce students to the principles of scientific thinking, experimental design, and help them better develop problem-solving skills.

Nearly, 200 eighth grade students participated in the lessons during the first week of October. The project was implemented along with the science team at C.W. Stanford Middle School in Hillsborough. As part of the project, Kraig Turner, Thayer’s mentor at LORD, spoke with students about polymer science.

“Through this experience, my understanding of chemical processes has grown astronomically, and I now have a basic knowledge of polymer science, which I am passing on to the students that I work with,” Thayer said. “The hands-on internship was one of the most important parts of this fellowship.”

Thayer is one of five 2019-20 Kenan Fellows who are supported by GSK. The GSK Kenan STEM Fellows, as they are known, are all Triangle area educators who are working to drive innovations in STEM education and help students embrace work-based applications in math and science.