Local firefighters spark middle school STEM lessons

Students learn about emergency services career while also getting to light something on fire
By: | June 17, 2019
STEM students at East Cobb Middle School near Atlanta investigate fire dynamics, fire behavior and the fire triangle alongside fire service professionals from the Cobb County Fire Department.Middle school STEM students near Atlanta investigate fire dynamics, fire behavior and the fire triangle alongside fire service professionals from the Cobb County Fire Department.

Want an idea for a hands-on middle school STEM lesson that’s guaranteed to fuel student engagement? Hand the kids lighters, and tell them to start fires.

Even better (and safer): Invite local firefighters to help out.

Middle schoolers in Georgia’s Cobb County School District worked on this CTE-oriented lab assignment this year while studying the dynamics of fire and examining careers in emergency response. (But don’t panic. The only thing the students ignited was a small household candle.)

“Engagement is through the roof,” says Sally Creel, the district’s STEM and innovation supervisor. “And it’s not a superficial lesson. You can’t get more real world than learning about preventing a fire at home.”

Middle school STEM excitement

The lighters and candles were tools in mock fire investigations that the middle school STEM classes conducted using UL Xplorlabs’ Fire Forensics: Claims and Evidence.

Students had to gather evidence provided in the program—and in their lab—to learn how firefighters spot the differences between arson and accidents.


More STEM stories: Miami high schoolers teach robotics to pre-K students


And the firefighters served as more than expert supervisors. They also taught students about various career paths in the field, Creel says.

The Cobb County fire department paid the off-duty firefighters to teach the lessons alongside science teachers at 11 district schools.

The middle schoolers examined how and why various materials extinguish flames.

The middle schoolers examined how and why various materials extinguish flames.

“Fire service is about more than holding a hose and aiming it at a structure that’s on fire,” she says. “There’s a real science behind it.”

One sign of student engagement is that teachers have not reported disciplinary referrals when the firefighters participate in class.


More STEM stories: How arts-based lessons improve science performance


“On those days, the students forget they’re middle schoolers who are supposed to be too cool for school,” Creel says. “It’s so much fun to see them get lost in learning.”


Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.