Learning About STEM and Preventing Fires

After learning about fire dynamics—how fires start, spread, and develop—and doing hands-on activities with firefighters, eighth graders across Cobb solved a virtual fire-related crime with help from an arson investigator as part of a partnership involving the district’s middle schools, the Cobb County Fire Department, and Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

UL offers a free module that the district’s eighth-grade science teachers use, Fire Forensics: Claims and Evidence, on its Xplorlabs online learning platform (see the unit at http://bit.ly/2lKh81k). “I saw [UL staff] at an NSTA conference and heard about UL’s fire dynamics curriculum,” recalls Dr. Sally Creel, the district’s STEM and Innovation Supervisor. “Our goal is to put students in contact with people in STEM fields, so partnering with UL and the fire department has helped provide students with authentic STEM learning,” she observes.

“We don’t get a lot of kids wanting to fight fires,” says Sean Gray, Cobb County Fire Department Captain and a member of the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute’s Advisory Board. By exposing students to the UL curriculum and the roles of fire service professionals, “we hope they will be interested in the career opportunities available in fire service and stay with the community,” he explains, adding that “the middle level is an important time to reach kids.”

Students experience “the excitement of having firefighters in their classroom,” says Creel. “We make sure to have a diverse group of firefighters in uniform so all students can relate to the material. The program is authentic and memorable,” she maintains. Firefighters co-teach the lessons with teachers, and they train together to use the curriculum.

“We’ve now trained 80 firefighters and 50 to 60 teachers at the middle and high school levels,” Gray reports. The UL curriculum “is set up as a problem-based learning scenario. Students have to discover what happened during a kitchen fire.  Was it an accident or arson,” Creel explains. The material also supports the Georgia Science Standards of Excellence, three-dimensional learning and STEM practices because it “integrates science and engineering practices, doing research and digging into data to determine what happened,” she points out. “Fire and how it behaves serves as the phenomenon, and students draw conclusions based on data and UL research.”

Dr. Sally Creel, Supervisor
STEM and Innovative Practice

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