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Sixth-Graders, Slime and STEM: MISD and the Society of Plastics Engineers Partner to Promote Interest in Engineering

Press Release|
Shane Mauldin|
Monday, March 14, 2022
  • MISD kicked off a new partnership with the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) on March 1, at Faubion Middle School. The day focused on sixth grade science classes, where SPE educators led students through engaging, inquiry-based investigations into the world of plastics engineering.
  • Eve Vitale, executive director of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Foundation and SPE PlastiVan® educator, talks with Faubion Middle School students about different types of polymers using two types of plastic cups as examples.
  • Students at Faubion learned about manipulating polymer chains by inserting a wooden skewer through an inflated balloon...
  • ...often with success!
  • But success...
  • ...was not a given.
  • Students look on as PlastiVan® educator Evan Morton stirs a quickly-thickening water absorbing powder in a plastic dish.
  • Students place drops of oil in water during a demonstration in which they used a polymer cloth to absorb the oil.
  • PlastiVan® educator Elizabeth Egan demonstrates the manipulation of polymer chains by inserting a wooden skewer through an inflated balloon.

McKinney, Texas – You’d be hard-pressed to find a middle schooler who doesn’t appreciate the curious properties of slime.

So, on March 1, when sixth graders at Faubion Middle School discovered that the “polymer chains” they were combining in science class by mixing a couple of liquids in petri dishes turned out to be what they all colloquially know as “slime,” it was no surprise that they were on board to learn more. They prodded it and peered at it and stretched it, and an observant student noted that the slime felt cold, which prompted a deeper dive into exothermic and endothermic polymers.

student holding and looking at slime created in science class

Leading the discussion was Eve Vitale, executive director of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Foundation. She’s also an SPE PlastiVan® educator who—along with fellow PlastiVan® teachers Evan Morton and Elizabeth Egan—had been invited to Faubion to talk about the world of plastics engineering and to spark student interest in their own field and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in general.

Vitale in front of class holding up two different types of plastic cups

The day-long visit took place across three classrooms during Faubion sixth grade science classes and is part of a vision to support STEM education in MISD that is being piloted at Faubion.

The concept was initiated by Dr. Sherrika Sanders, who has worked as a senior technical engineer with Manner Polymers in McKinney for the past four years. Her connection to MISD through Partners in Education Specialist Nancy Cowlishaw led to the initiative to introduce students to the world of plastics engineering and to promote interest in STEM, with a long-term goal of creating a science lab in MISD.

two male students holding balloon on a skewer and laughing

“The vision for the program is much more than what we’re doing today,” explained Sanders. “This is sort of the kick off and the start of things and the exposure piece of it. The whole program would include things like what we are doing today with the sixth graders. Additionally, [we will hold] essay contests, science fairs and eventually … we want to either build a lab or house a lab here in one of the McKinney ISD schools where students—mainly 9th-12th graders—can come do research. We had two kids from our EcoTech science lab in Detroit who presented to the United Nations. So, that’s what we want to do here.”

Back in the classroom, students set their slime aside and the discussion moved on to the arrangement and density of polymer chains and how they can be manipulated. This they explored through the nifty trick of spearing an inflated balloon using a wooden skewer—(mostly) without popping the balloon. Then, another demonstration with water, vegetable oil and small squares of oil-absorbing polymer cloth revealed a strategy for cleaning petroleum spills.

Male student looking at petri dish as another student places drops of oil in it

“We were so excited to bring McKinney’s very own Dr. Sherrika Sanders, joined by three SPE educators to Faubion Middle School to showcase plastics engineering to our sixth grade students. It was a great way to celebrate our March 1 Texas Girls in STEM day,” said MISD Secondary Science Curriculum Coordinator Kendra Henke. “All of our students demonstrated scientific thinking through these engaging, inquiry-based investigations. They developed and applied scientific reason as they explored the STEM concepts and communicated like scientists to their peers throughout the day about the results of their investigations.”

Vitale was impressed with Faubion’s sixth-grade students. “We visit schools all over the United States, and we have some really great schools. I think Faubion is one of the best, and I think it’s not only the students that make it great, but it’s the teachers and the campus administration and the district administration. We’ve got so much support. We’re so excited to come back because the polymer industry is a huge opportunity for students in Texas, and we want to come back and help guide them into those opportunities.”

student with head at table level peering at substance in petri dish

For Faubion Principal Mitch VandenBoom, the day was a great learning opportunity for Faubion’s sixth-graders. “The intriguing part to me was that our students were exposed to the way that engineers are currently figuring out approaches to responsibly make plastics that will hopefully have a long-term positive environmental impact. Bringing our kids up to speed on the latest technologies is really a neat opportunity for them, and I’m excited to see where we take it from here.”

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If you need additional assistance with the content on this page, please contact MISD Communications Department team member Shane Mauldin by phone at 469-302-4007 or by email here .

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