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What Makes Good Long Undies?

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Author Contact Information

Peter M. Amati, Jr.
Holliston High School
Holliston, Ma. 01746
School Phone 508-429-0677

In this activity, students examine a variety of different types of fabrics and discuss what characteristics would make a good pair of long underwear for a journey to Antarctica.

Grade Level/Discipline
Grades 9-12, but may be adapted to middle school Physical science and general science classes

National Standards

Pre-activity set-up
Gather samples

For each student research team:

  • one 5 cm x 5 cm swatches of 16 different types of fabric (including, silk, rubber, lace, polypropylene, burlap, synthetic fur, wool, cotton, etc...)
For the class:
  • warm water
  • balance

Time Frame
1 class period (approximately 55 minutes)

Engagement and Exploration (Student Inquiry Activity)
Hand out samples of the various fabrics to students and ask them to examine the materials.

What are the characteristics of the various types of fabric? Students may mention some of the following characteristics:

Ask each team to experiment with the different types of fabric in order to figure out some of their properties.

Allow teams to examine the fabrics to determine how they differ. Encourage students to experiment with many different characteristics of the fabrics. For example, students might examine absorbency by placing pieces of the fabrics into water to see if how much water they absorb. These investigations should be relatively informal and last for only a short time.

Explanation (Discussing)
Discuss students' observations. What did they find out about the fabrics and what do their findings tell them? Students should have made some observations about the different fabrics. For example, students may have found that burlap is rougher than silk or that cotton absorbs water better than silk. What types of materials do students think would make the best long underwear? Students may be familiar with the latest advances in long underwear and suggest polypropylene or silk. If so, try to elicit what characteristics of these fabrics make them good long underwear. Students should mention low cost, light weight, high insulating capability, or removal of moisture from next to the skin (wicking). Make a list of the characteristics students should mention.

Elaboration (Polar Applications)
Set the scene by explaining that students will be role-playing the parts Of

  • clothing designers developing long underwear for a sea ice research team
  • taking ice cores from the Weddell Sea.

    Assign students to research teams. You may wish to appoint Principal Investigators for each group.

    Explain to students the team structure of many types of research teams. These teams usually consist of a Principal Investigator (PI) who is responsible for overseeing the entire research project. PIs assign research responsibilities, develop safety and logistical procedures, and oversee the project budget. It might be useful to pick self-motivated and industrious students to act as Principal Investigators.

    In addition to the PI, research teams should also have:

  • materials managers who will be responsible for obtaining and managing the materials

  • data analysts who will be responsible for collecting and displaying data

  • production managers who will describe and illustrate the product for the final report
  • Make sure that students understand that, although each team member will have a specific specialty, all team members are responsible for the final product.

    Ask students to read about Peter Amati's research in the Weddell Sea on The Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic web site: ../../tea_amatifrontpage.html

    In parcticular, note the journal entry from June 6, 1992, in which Peter describes the extreme cold and dryness of Antarctica. ../../amati/6.5.1992.html

    Another interesting reference can be found on the GLACIER web site at ../../expedition/2_trainingcamp.html Students should use the information they find to inform their long underwear design.

    Student teams research temperatures and conditions found in the Weddell Sea. Weddell Sea conditions can be found on the GLACIER web site at ../../weather/weather.html

    The two closest sites to the Weddell Sea are Butler Island ../../weather/butlerisland.html or Ski Hi ../../weather/skihi.html

    Direct teams to discuss what they will need to know to develop their long underwear. Remind students to take into account the characteristics they feel would make the best long underwear. Students should develop a plan by which they can develop their long underwear recommendation. Teams will need to determine the types of tests they will do, what materials the will need, and what they think characterizes the best long underwear.

    If necessary, student teams can continue to develop their plans as homework.

    Exchange (Students Draw Conclusions)
    Student research teams present their ideas for testing the fabrics and the characteristics they think will make the best long underwear.

    As a class, determine which tests you will perform and what requirements you feel will make the best long underwear.

    Post a list of the selected tests and characteristics.

    Evaluation (Assessing Student Performance)
    Rubric dealing with formal lab report and graphed data sets.

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