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Nurturing Creative Processes And Attitudes In Introductory Materials Science

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Introduction to Materials Courses

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

14.918.1 - 14.918.19



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Paper Authors

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Jonathan Stolk Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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

Nurturing Creative Processes and Attitudes in Introductory Materials Science


We educators face a pressing need for our courses and curricula to turn out more creative people. Unfortunately, most of our undergraduate engineering environments provide few opportunities for students to engage in creative processes. Engineering instructors habitually design courses that are loaded with instructor controls. Faculty tell students what to learn, how to learn it, when to learn it, and why they should care about learning it. The results are often low student intrinsic motivation, lack of individual internalization of learning goals, and limited learner engagement in higher-level cognitive and metacognitive processes, all of which may lead to decreased creativity. One approach to unleashing students’ creative potential may lie in nurturing their self- directed learning capacities. Creativity research tells us that individual autonomy is a core characteristic of creative people, and that achieving creative potential may require development of a strong sense of self-determination. This paper describes an introductory materials science course built on the premise that student choice and control facilitate engagement, self- motivation, and creative approaches to learning. The course design leverages existing educational research that suggests strong correlations between self-determination and creativity. By providing students with increasing levels of autonomy – and corresponding increases in creative opportunity – throughout the semester, the project-based learning experiences enable students to connect materials science topics to personal interests and contexts. Students report that the course contributes positively to their creative thinking, and they emphasize the benefits of freedom in choosing topics and learning strategies.


Imagine yourself as a first-semester sophomore, entering the classroom on the first day of your introductory materials science course. For you, this course represents one of the last foundational engineering courses you must complete before you start your major course sequence. Viewed another way, this course is your gateway to the “real” engineering courses. You are feeling excited but a bit nervous, anticipating what is sure to be a tough few years of engineering education. You wonder about the students around you, how they did in the “weed out” courses, how smart they are, how far along in the program they may be.

Your instructor enters, and all the whispers in the room quickly fall to silence. The instructor is fairly new to the mechanical engineering department, so you have not heard much about his teaching style. He is younger than you expected, and rumor has it that he comes from the nanotech industry. You anticipate that this will make for a more enjoyable course, or at least a few more cutting-edge examples.

The instructor passes out the course syllabus, and begins the expected first-day drill. He tells you that the course provides an introduction to materials science. No surprise. He tells you that you will learn a lot, since the course covers metals, polymers, ceramics, composites, and semiconductors, including atomic structure and bonding, crystallography, defects, diffusion,

Stolk, J. (2009, June), Nurturing Creative Processes And Attitudes In Introductory Materials Science Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5158

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