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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Nanoscience Education & Workforce Training > Teaching Nanoscale Science to K-12 Students

Judith Light Feather
President
The NanoTechnology Group Inc

Abstract:

Abstract:
Why do all students have to learn about nanoscale science?

Over the past 15 years I have attempted to answer this question in many ways, sometimes successfully and more often than not, have faced objections from all levels of educators. There are many stumbling blocks placed against inclusion of new areas of science in all grades. Many educators have become complacent teaching only the required standard-based curriculum for students in K-12. Many educators state that students are struggling to learn the basics in these primary subjects and are not competent in passing standardized testing in math, reading and grammar. Therefore, science topics are considered too difficult for them to comprehend at an early age. Getting past this first objection, along with the fact that teachers are overloaded with paperwork, mandatory state and federal testing and do not have time to introduce a new subject, has been an ongoing challenge. The second issue stated by teachers, "They do not know where to insert the resources developed as nanoscale science curriculum into their current teaching matrix. The universities that developed the curriculum did not match it to their current textbooks."

June 10th, 2011

Teaching Nanoscale Science to K-12 Students

Why do all students have to learn about nanoscale science?

Over the past 15 years I have attempted to answer this question in many ways, sometimes successfully and more often than not, have faced objections from all levels of educators. There are many stumbling blocks placed against inclusion of new areas of science in all grades. Many educators have become complacent teaching only the required standard-based curriculum for students in K-12. Many educators state that students are struggling to learn the basics in these primary subjects and are not competent in passing standardized testing in math, reading and grammar. Therefore, science topics are considered too difficult for them to comprehend at an early age. Getting past this first objection, along with the fact that teachers are overloaded with paperwork, mandatory state and federal testing and do not have time to introduce a new subject, has been an ongoing challenge. The second issue stated by teachers, "They do not know where to insert the resources developed as nanoscale science curriculum into their current teaching matrix. The universities that developed the curriculum did not match it to their current textbooks."

In the United States, science was not even considered a standardized subject until 4th grade and was not included in the testing in many states until 8th grade. Congress finally mandated testing for both grades in 2010. New standards for how to teach science are now in process of development organized by the National Research Council's (NRC) Committee1 on "A Conceptual Framework to Develop New Science Education Standards for K-12." There is no guarantee that nanoscale science will be mentioned, or included in this new framework, nor if the current method of teaching disconnected topics without any depth will be addressed. All changes and decisions normally take a decade to appear in the classrooms, and another decade to evaluate. Government leaders do not understand that the nanotechnology revolution waits for no man, woman...or child. They wish to revitalize science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) performance in the educational system, without addressing the most prominent size of science in these efforts. Grades K-12 are particularly important as they are the effective gestation point for future ideas and information. If you do not stimulate a child's normal curiosity at a young age to better understand their world and how it relates to them as humans, you have lost them forever.

Science is the study of nature and how the world works. The advances in microscopy over the past two decades have allowed our scientific communities to see into the atomic level, move and manipulate atoms, and create new advances in all branches of science from the microscopic to the cosmos. Nanoscale science is the size where we can see the underlying energy of atoms and particles before they become matter. If we were to teach our young students this size of science, allowing them to compare the visual elements of the atomic scale, versus everything they see in the macro scale, it would be taught as 'the foundation of nature'. It is not a separate subject to be added - it is a size - that is of extreme importance in understanding the patterns and relationships of nature that surround us in our everyday lives. Therefore, it is our obligation to introduce this size of science to all students with visual elements that show atoms in movement at the nanoscale as the foundation of nature, before it becomes matter.

Countries around the world are slowly addressing these issues and developing separate courses mostly for high school students. They still teach physics, chemistry and biology as separate topics in science, rather than integrating them into a field of expanding knowledge that we can now see at the nanoscale of science. Very few are addressing middle school or primary grades except for the country of Taiwan.

Their program was titled Nanotechnology Human Resources Development (NHRD)2 and started with six professors and two seed teachers in 2002. They included the younger students from the beginning of their project and the teachers developed an array of textbooks, animated videos, comic books, coloring books and educational video games between 2002-2007. In their 2009 report, they stated that all the original materials that were developed in Taiwanese, have now been translated into English. It is my hope that they make them available over the internet for other countries to adopt.

Developing teaching materials for nanoscience in the native language of young students is very important for them to understand the concepts and why this size of science will relate to everything in their future. All technologies in the next decade will advance in all areas of science based on this new underlying size of nature. If we continue to ignore our responsibility to expand our students knowledge base by not including this size as 'the foundation of nature', we are ensuring that they will never compete in a global marketplace.

A magazine in the native languages of the children in India is providing an expanded knowledge base that is necessary for their future. I am providing weblinks at the end of this column to the English version of the magazine, along with weblinks to the same magazine in three native languages in India as a resource for educators around the world. Resources developed by all countries can be shared globally if educators or teachers take the time to translate the curriculum into their native languages for the young students.

The recent book titled: Nanoscience Education, Workforce Training and K-12 Resources, CRC Press3, provides Internet links to all global resources for K-12 teachers, along with development tools.

The following project for India will also provide students without electricity access to these resources with advanced electronic notepads in the near future.

Thanks to a partnership4 between Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Houston's Rice University and an Indian nonprofit, Villages for Development and Learning Foundation (ViDAL), some of the estimated 100 million Indian children who attend schools without electricity may soon have access to one of the world's most advanced electronic notepads. India's full economic potential will only be realized with sustainable, low-cost technologies that benefit all segments of the population," said Krishna Palem, a Rice University professor who is leading an effort on three continents to create a low-cost, electronic version of the hand-held slates that millions of Indian children use in schools today.

Palem's brainchild - a device dubbed the I-slate - is in development at the Institute of Sustainable and Applied Infodynamics (ISAID) at NTU. The first prototypes of the I-slate, which were built at NTU last summer by a team that included three Rice undergraduates, are set to undergo their second round of tests in India.

Palem, who directs ISAID, said the I-slate is the first of a series of electronic notepads being built around a new class of green, power-stingy microchips that use a fraction of the electricity of today's computer chips. Under development in partnership between ISAID and Switzerland's Center for Electronics and Microtechnology, the chips will make it possible for the I-slate to run on solar power from panels similar to those used in hand-held calculators.

These new electronic pads, along with the new nanoscience curriculum in three native languages, recently developed for young K-12 students are important steps in the right direction for India.

Even though it has been established that English is the global language of science for conferences, publishing in journals and for exchange students, the very beginning lessons for K-6 students need to be developed in native languages using visual formats, interactive games, or use of online remote nano-labs5 for observing the atomic scale of science for experiments. It is my hope that you, as readers, will understand why all students need to learn nanoscale science and move toward inclusion in your own countries. Each month I will provide new resources that we have gathered for teachers/students to explore. For more information visit our website at TNTG


English: nanolagam.blogspot
Hindi: nanhiduniyaa.blogspot
Tamil: nunnulagam.blogspot
Malayalam: kunhanlogam.blogspot

References:
1. Helen R. Quinn, PhD (NAS), Chair, NRC Committee to Develop Conceptual Framework for New Science Standards, Chair, NRC Board on Science Education
2.Light Feather, Judith, The 1st International Collaboration in U.S. On K-12 nanoscience courses, 2009, tntg
3.Light Feather, Judith, Aznar, Miguel F., Nanoscience Education, Workforce Training and K-12 Resources. CRC Press, ISBN: 978-1-4200-5394-4
4.Press Release: Rice University, November 8, 2010, tntg
5.University of Virginia, Virtual Nano Lab K-12. , virlab.virginia

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