High School Teacher Creates Course on Bio-Renewables After Participating in RET Program

Achievement date: 

The Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at Iowa State University, conducts a summer program called Research Experiences for Teachers (RET). After participating in that program, Eric Hall, a Des Moines high school chemistry teacher, created a unit on bio-renewables and bio-plastics for his advanced chemistry class. The unit included student reviews of articles relating to bio-renewables, and these reviews later received constructive feedback from CBiRC graduate students.


Participating in the newly created advanced class and receiving feedback from graduate students were very rewarding to the students. Sixteen research papers were reviewed by eight CBiRC graduate students who provided feedback about content validity, proper reference citation, and correct terminology. Students understood that the feedback was from experts and that suggestions made should be incorporated into final versions of their papers. This process was exceptionally meaningful because these students had never before received such specific and content-heavy feedback from outside the classroom.


The CBiRC RET participants in the summer of 2011 were required to write a case study that focused on their independent research project.  The objective was to develop a deliverable that teachers could use in their classrooms to bring relevance to students about cutting-edge science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) research and relate it to classroom curricula. Teachers attended a two-day workshop presented by Dr. Clyde Herried, Director of the NSF-sponsored National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. During the workshop, teachers learned how to implement a case study effectively in the class by engaging students to think critically. Following the workshop and throughout the RET program, RET participants met weekly with two master teachers trained in case-study preparation and implementation. RET participants also collaborated with their research mentors and supervisors to gather resources and strengthen their cases. Seven case studies were completed in the area of engineering and bio-renewables, and many case studies were implemented in high-school classrooms during the 2011-2012 academic year.

Based on his CBiRC RET experience, Eric Hall (Hoover High School in Des Moines) went a step beyond and implemented an inquiry-based class module on bio-plastics together with a case study on bio-renewables. Students in his class were assigned a project to research a topic relating to bio-renewables; that project also was to tie into the bio-plastics module completed in class. The purpose of this assignment was to assess whether the completed course work supported the knowledge required for the students to understand their chosen research topic. Results showed that understanding of the topic was greatly enhanced by the students’ research reviews and subsequent feedback from subject-matter experts.