Composite Classroom

By Jessica Levine

April 2016

When I began learning about Boeing, I was introduced to an alphabet soup of acronyms and engineering jargon. A roundtable of educators and engineers began introductions. First, folks shared their expertise in the key of F: Flight, Forces and Physics. Then, Jill and Kay keyed in their work in chemistry and composites. What a strong bond that would prove to be!

Boeing went above and beyond to bring engineers into science classrooms. The result: a partnership guided by The Teaching Channel and the University of Washington. With two wonderful women from Boeing's Composite division -- Senior Technical Fellow Chemist Kay Blohowiak and Senior Technical Fellow Chemical Engineer Jill Seebergh -- I created a comprehensive chemical engineering unit called "Polymers and Composites for the Planet."

Working with these two Boeing chemists was a remarkable opportunity. The partnership opened new networks for me in the teaching of chemistry. For example, when gathering curriculum resources for this unit, we discovered an online lesson on biopolymer formulations from a University of Minnesota Center for Sustainable Polymers. Working through those formulations presented challenges for our middle school adaptations, so we reached out to them. As Kay was a chemistry graduate of the university, and excited to incorporate some material from her alma mater, she set up a conference call. In an early morning video-call on a gray Seattle morning, I could feel the links of chemistry education continue to form those long chains. I loved participating in the research side of chemistry, working as an engineer myself, and setting new goals for a broader educational scope of this project. The project also landed close to home. As it happened, Jill's daughter was in my class and would directly benefit from our partnership.

You see, I teach middle school students because I believe fundamentally in their ability to change the world. I teach chemistry specifically because I believe that changing the world depends on a solid foundation of the particulate nature of matter. While I may teach with kitchen chemicals, I don't just teach kitchen chemistry. I get sixth-graders to grasp big ideas about the very small. I help them understand relevant applications of the law of conservation of mass. You see, whether or not my students are career scientists in their future, they must be sustainably savvy citizens. The future of our planet depends on it.

Boeing helps students gain new heights. For me, this project focused on biopolymers -- and the network and chains of educators (and students) were the links that proved strong and flexible. It also focused on composites -- and the resources, universities and institutions that make the work that much stronger.

Jessica Levine (standing), working with students in the Polymers for the Planet unit, which headlines the The Teaching Channel's Science and Innovation Series online.

The Teaching Channel