Asee peer logo

Infrastructure Materials: An Inquiry Based Design Sequence

Download Paper |


1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.235.1 - 2.235.13



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Yixin Shao

author page

Laura Walhof

author page

Joseph J. Biernacki

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2525

Infrastructure Materials An Inquiry-Based Design Sequence Joseph J. Biernacki, Laura Walhof, Yixin Shao1 National Science Foundation Center for Science and Technology of Advanced Cement-Based Materials Northwestern University/ Glenbrook South High School/ McGill University

Infrastructure materials are among the most used material on earth with concrete being used more than any other except water. Annually, over one ton of concrete is used per person on earth. The Infrastructure Materials module introduces students to the design of concrete materials and design with concrete materials for use in infrastructure applications: roads, bridges, buildings, dams, waterways, airport pavements, etc. The module includes a sequence of activities which enables students to discover factors critical to understanding how to design concrete and how to design with concrete. It guides students developing the realization that concrete is not a simple homogeneous material which is purchased in a sack at the hardware store, but rather a complex heterogeneous class of material with a wide range of design diversity. The activities include: a concrete hunt in which students try to identify objects which are made of concrete and the reasons why concrete was used for that application, an exploration activity which give students a chance to discover what concrete is made of and what the apparent characteristics of the material are, an activity in which students make concrete and discover that concrete gets hard because of a chemical reaction and concomitant physical changes, an introduction to fracture processes and concepts of brittle failure and reinforcing mechanics and finally a design activity which inspires the students to design, build, test and redesign a product and apply the principles of chemistry, physics and mathematics, which they explored in preceding activities. These and other activities have been modeled and field-tested in outreach programs by the Center for Advanced Cement- Based Materials (ACBM) at Northwestern University and at schools with teachers and students ranging from middle school to high school age. Infrastructure Materials is part of a larger National Science Foundation-funded program called Materials World Modules (MWM). MWM is a series of modules which introduce students to important contemporary topics in materials science. Each module is a sequence of self-contained activities which provide students with the background necessary for them to engage in inquiry through design.


We are in the midst of major changes in both pre-college (K-12) and college level education. It is becoming increasingly evident that the traditional approach to teaching —wherein a teacher provides a set of stimuli and reinforcements in an effort to elicit desired responses from students— is unsuccessful in fostering understanding, synthesis, eventual application of knowledge and the ability to use information, Trowbridge and Bybee2. As an alternative, Trowbridge and Bybee2 suggest an inquiry-based approach which encourages student input of creative ideas, uses alternative sources of information,

Shao, Y., & Walhof, L., & Biernacki, J. J. (1997, June), Infrastructure Materials: An Inquiry Based Design Sequence Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6615

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 1997 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015