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Akron Global Polymer Academy Professional Development Modules

One Plus One Makes New: Investigating Composite Materials

Grades: 5-8
Author: Joyce Brumberger
View Student Lesson Plan


Module Description

As a result of the presenter-conducted module, participants will learn about the properties of matter and how properties can change when composite materials are produced. Through design and implementation of their own experiments, participants will design a lesson they can implement in their own classroom.





  1. Show an artist rendering or photograph of the Habbakuh, the proposed 2 ton pykrete aircraft carrier and tell students that it was a topic secret ship that England and the United States agreed to build during World War II. (Download from Google images.)
  2. Read to participants the background history of the Habbakuh at
  3. Brainstorm together properties (characteristics, attributes) that a substance might have. (Examples: color, shine (luster), density, melting point, etc.) and write them on the board or an easel size notepad.
  4. Ask participants to form small groups of three or four and provide them with the materials listed in the Preparation section for Engagement.
  5. Tell participants to list their descriptions of the properties of the ice and sawdust on the worksheet provided. (Note: ice and sawdust may be removed from their containers) If participants request additional materials for testing determine if the request is reasonable and safe and provide materials as available.
  6. Ask a spokesperson from each group to share some of their observations with the whole group.
  7. Ask the group as a whole to brainstorm other things they might do to further determine properties of the materials. Record all responses on the board or an easel size notepad. Participants should also be recording on their worksheets.
  8. Ask the group to hypothesize how the properties of a material made of ice and sawdust might compare or contrast to ice itself. Record all the responses on the board or an easel size notepad.

Assessment: Assessment is on going as participants record observations and ideas as well as respond orally during the Engagement phase.


  1. Ask each group to select one property they wish to explore from the large group list. Each group should be exploring a different property. The Professional Development Provider may wish to assign groups a property to expedite the process.
  2. Based on the property to be explored, ask each group to write a testable question so that they may test their hypothesis through experimentation. For example, if the property to be tested is melting rate, then the question might be �How does the addition of sawdust frozen in water affect the melting rate of plain ice?�
  3. Ask participants what conditions (variables) they would want to keep the same throughout their experiment so that they can insure their results were only a result of the addition of sawdust.
  4. Ask participants of each group to write a step-by-step, numbered procedure to test their hypothesis. An example for a procedure for melting rate might be:
  5. Ask groups to provide a list of all materials needed to follow their written procedures. An example of a material list might be:
  6. Ask each group to share their procedure and, if reasonable and safe, allow them to conduct their experiment.

Assessment: The professional development provider can assess if procedures were logical and followed as written and if data was collected and recorded.


Assessment: Participants oral explanations of their data, analysis and conclusion will provide the professional development provider the ability to evaluate participants understanding of these aspects of experimentation. Participants' ability to provide additional examples of key terms such as dependent and independent variables, as well as experimental controls, will help the provider assess individuals' understanding of the concepts.


Create a durable hockey puck with water and one other common material. Test the strength of the composite material based on a procedure developed by the class as a whole. Allow each group to determine what material they want to use in the frozen water. Examples could be newspaper, cloth fibers, flour, cornstarch, etc.

Assessment: Participants' explanations of observations vs. inferences in the participant created scenarios.

Classroom Implementation



Hockey Puck












































One Plus One Makes New Lesson


Understanding a historical perspective of scientific development provides a foundation upon which further advancement can be made. Working upon the success and failure of others enables a new generation of individuals to move forward in their research and development. The ideas and concepts of previous researchers can be used or adapted as new situations arise. For example, the development of pykrete in the early 1940's lead to the Habbakuk project, a floating ice aircraft carrier to be built by the United States and England. The project never came to fruition, but the concept of using ice as a matrix with other materials is used in some parts of the world today for supporting trucks and other structures.

Material science is not a new science but has been brought to the forefront in today's world with advanced technologies and increased need for new products and materials. This field of study involves the understanding of materials and their properties and examines how those properties can be altered for a desired outcome. There is a great demand for chemical, physical, and mechanical engineers in today's workforce and exposure to and application of materials such as composites in the classroom helps students develop an understanding during their pre-college years. When teachers are knowledgeable, they are better able to development awareness of future career opportunities for their students.

More detailed information on science inquiry can be found at:

Science Standards

NSES Standard A: Science as Inquiry: As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

NSES Standard B: Physical Science: As a result of their activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of properties and changes of properties in matter

NSES Standard G: History and Nature of Science: As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of Science as a human endeavor

NSES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STANDARD A: Professional development for teachers of science requires learning essential science content through the perspectives and methods of inquiry. Science learning experiences for teachers must:

NSES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STANDARD B: Professional development for teachers of science requires integrating knowledge of science, learning, pedagogy, and students; it also requires applying that knowledge to science teaching. Learning experiences for teachers of science must:

Best Teaching Practices

Time Frame

Engagement - one 40 minute period

Exploration - two 40 minute periods

Elaboration - two 40 minute periods

Explanation - 30 minutes



If using paper cups, lightly spray with oil

For each group measure 50 mL of

Fill one small quart size plastic container � full of water


Prepare enough ice cubes for each group to have one of each kind.


Water and ice can be poured down the sink.

Sawdust may be placed in a designated container for reuse. If burned, may be disposed of in another designated container, sprayed with water until cool and disposed of in the garbage.

Proper directions must be given if samples are burned or compressed.

Goggles are necessary if materials are burned or compressed.


Assessments are ongoing throughout the learning cycle.

Teachers convert a teacher directed science activity into an inquiry-based lesson plan for their students.

Explanation of Science

Composite materials are comprised of two or more materials with different properties combined together to form a substance with new properties. The materials combine together such that they can still be identified because they have not been chemically altered. The base material is called the matrix and the added stronger material is referred to as the reinforcement. In this lesson, water was the matrix material and the wood pulp was the reinforcement. The term �pykrete� was given to this material in honor of Geoffrey Pyke.

Composite materials affect everyone in their daily lives and are not new ideas. Mud bricks made with another material like straw were developed thousands of years ago. Today, many composite materials are further enhanced by special manufacturing processes, which improve properties such as tensile strength or the ability to support heavier loads.


History of Habbakuh

Properties Worksheet


Research material science topics related to composites and industrial additives in polymeric materials.

Research the origin of the name Habbakuh.

Visit and do an interactive experiment testing pykrete and concrete

Visit to do an interactive website to explore Kevlar another composite material

Research current day uses of composite materials with ice as the matrix material

Lesson Implementation Template

Download Lesson Implementation Template: Word Document or PDF File


Try to group students heterogeneously with diversity in mind.


None available for this module.