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Concrete: Product Design and Marketing

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Concrete is widely used for a variety of applications and purposes. The building materials, design choices and material strength concepts covered in this curriculum align well with New York State’s middle school technology curriculum.  Two separate versions of this unit have been taught.  The original one was taught for 8 years in local school districts with an emphasis on utilizing non-biodegradable solid waste as an aggregate for concrete.  The second version was taught for the first time in 2008 to provide the students with greater opportunities to make engineering design decisions with an emphasis on innovative and unique concrete mixtures.  The recent revisions to the concrete curriculum reflect the research of  Professor Narayanan Neithalath on porous concrete. His research and outreach activities were recently funded by NSF CAREER Award (CMMI 0747897). Dr. Neithalath is affiliated with Clarkson’s Center for Advanced Materials Processing.

In this unit, the students are provided with a real-world problem of selecting a suitable concrete mix for a client with a specific need.  The students learn the basics of concrete mixtures and make a range of test samples including traditional mixes, concrete with solid waste as aggregate and porous concrete. They explore material properties, stresses and forces, and safety issues.  Using a weighted objectives table, students select the “best” mixture for their project and fabricate a sample. The students develop marketing information and strategies to persuade their client that their concrete product is most suitable for the given problem. The concrete applications include a sidewalk, a box retail store and a skate board park.

This unit has three focuses: uses and properties of concrete, fabrication of samples to meet specific criteria, and product marketing. Students engage in numerous hands-on activities that demonstrate critical concepts and extend understandings.  Although fully integrated and congruent, the three focuses can be adapted to be taught as separate strands or mini-units.
The Unit includes 13 basic lessons (see files listed at the right), each with background information for the instructor as well as suggested teaching schemes.  Each lesson contains a number of associated activities, several of which are optional or interchangeable depending on specific classroom situations.  The Unit is typically taught over 40-45 minute classroom periods.  This timeframe can be adjusted depending on the specific goals of the particular class, and there are ample activities provided to extend the unit to a longer timeframe.  Estimated teaching days are included in the outline of lessons and activities above.  Note that the teaching days are based on including all activities listed in the lesson plan.