Xplorlabs: Engaging the Next Generation of Real-World Problem Solvers Through Safety Science Education
January 27, 2021

UL Xplorlabs Partners with Cobb County, Georgia

In Cobb County, Ga., local teachers and fire service professionals are teaming up around the UL Xplorlabs: Fire Forensics module. After trainings with fire experts and teachers, Cobb County firefighters join the classroom to ensure safety during labs, help students engage with the material and introduce students to potential career paths.

“Xplorlabs was a really critical way to engage the students at a time they tend to be disengaged,” said Megan O’Keeffe, the Physical Science Coordinator at McCleskey Middle School. “The opportunity to bring in Cobb County firefighters into our classrooms to tell the students about how they use the fire triangle, and how they know about chemical reactions and physical changes was really awesome because students got to hear from somebody other than me.”

At Fire Forensics training workshops, teachers work alongside fire service professionals. As of 2020, five training sessions were held in Cobb County to training a total of 75 Cobb Fire personnel and teachers from 25 local middle schools to use Xplorlabs: Fire Forensics.

“What makes the UL Xplorlabs program so innovative is that it is a true partnership between Underwriters Laboratories, Cobb Schools and Cobb Fire,” said Sally Creel, Ph.D., the STEM Innovation Supervisor at Cobb County Schools. “When I can bring in people who do something for a living into the classrooms, that’s where it really makes sense to kids about why are they learning this.”

UL Xplorlabs is designed with a trust-the-teacher approach that encourages teachers to tailor each modular lesson to be relevant and impactful in each classroom. The Cobb Fire and Cobb County Schools partnership exemplifies the benefits of this flexibility. Kelly Keena, Ph.D., director of education and outreach, was invited to be a presenter during Cobb County’s educator event STEMapalooza to offer the Fire Forensics workshop. The 12 teachers who had experience using the module from previous workshops discussed how they had fit the lessons into their own classrooms. In one example, students designed cardboard “homes” to model fire resilience and ventilation, and then presented their investigation results to an arson investigator.

The partnership now extends outside of Underwriters Laboratories and Cobb County training sessions, too. Amy Gilbert, Ph.D., an eighth-grade physical science teacher at Gilbert Middle School, shared her work with the partnership and Xplorlabs: Fire Forensics in an National Science Teachers Association web conference. On August 18, 2020, Dr. Gilbert cohosted a webinar with UL FSRI Research Director Dr. Dan Madrzykowski entitled The Practice of Fire Forensics, which is a part of the current UL Xplorlabs webinar series The Science and Practice of UL Xplorlabs.

The Fire Forensics module can be found on the UL Xplorlabs website along with guides for educators and other modules.