Local News

December 17, 2013

Burnin’ and learnin'

Southeast students test flammability, durability of fabrics

“Oh man! This is fun!”

That remark from Southeast Whitfield High School sophomore Natalia Romero is an oddity in school, several students said. It’s not that school is bad, Romero and her peers clarified, but sometimes reading textbooks, taking standardized exams, writing papers and listening to lectures can get “boring.”

But Tuesday afternoon Romero and several other students were lively, energetic and perhaps learning more than usual. That’s thanks to chemistry teacher Sheila Hudson.

She has designed a class titled “Hot Fibers Cool Fabrics” around testing the durability, sustainability and — a favorite among most students — flammability of fabrics used in everyday clothes.

Students put different materials, from polyester to rayon, organic to synthetic, in test tubes of bleach and water to see how well they handled washing machine products, among other chemicals.

Then it was off to several controlled flames on chemistry tables to see how different materials reacted to fire. Some materials, such as nylon, burned slow. Wool, however, lit up quick to the surprise of several students.

“This is awesome,” one student shouted.

For Romero, actually doing science was a nice break from normal school because she doesn’t always enjoy “sitting down and listening (to someone talk) or just reading a book.”

“I feel like I learn better whenever I actually do things,” she said.

Brent Anderson, another sophomore, agreed.

“Doing this stuff really shows you what you can do with school,” he said. “I’m not wondering, ‘Why am I learning this if I’m not going to use it?’ It shows that school can be useful.”

That’s the point, Hudson said.

“Students can really see that relationship between what happens inside the school related to what happens outside,” she said.

When students go shopping, Hudson said, they should now understand the tiny print on clothing tags.

“We get caught up in the glitz and glamour of fashion,” she said. “We honestly forget that there is science behind it.”

Hudson said she hopes the experimental class was more than a cool experience for students and that they will continue asking questions about materials throughout their lives.

“What fibers should we use? Which ones would you use and why?” Hudson said. “Why do we blend? What is the advantage of blending cotton with polyester? They will get a better understanding of what that clothing tag means.”

Hudson’s class was funded by the Whitfield Education Foundation, which gave the teacher a $278 grant to pay for the materials.

“We’re very proud of Ms. Hudson,” Foundation Director Mary Ellen Kinsey said. “This is innovation right here.”

Visit wcs.whitfield.k12.ga.us/wef to learn more about the foundation and its grants.

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