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A First-Ever Teachers’ Resource for K-12 Nanoscience Education and Training

by Editor1 last modified November 30, 2010 - 17:09

Many teachers see their role as helping to prepare a prosperous 21st century workforce. A new book scheduled for release in December from CRC Press provides teachers a rich set of approaches and tools to help them introduce nanoscience and nanotechnology to students from kindergarten to high school.

A First-Ever Teachers’ Resource for K-12  Nanoscience Education and Training

Nanoscience Education, Workforce Training, and K-12 Resources, was developed by a team of teaching professionals familiar with nanoscience to help teachers frustrated by the lack of guidance or curriculum for K-12 students. spoke with the co-authors of this first-ever volume, Judith Light Feather, President of The NanoTechnology Group Inc. (TNTG) and Miguel F. Aznar, executive director of KnowledgeContext and director of education for Foresight Institute.

Filling A Teacher’s Gap in Nanoscience K-12 Education
Nanoscience Education, Workforce Training, and K-12 Resources is brimming with references, teaching tips, games and insights on how K-12 teachers can open the world of nanoscience to a whole new generation of students. In fact, the book’s main goal is to finally make it easy (and affordable) for teacher’s to find and tap into a wealth of nanoscience teaching resources. It does this by offering roadmaps and suggestions for how to bring this learning into the classroom.

“Teachers have been waiting for the universities to show them where [nanoscience] lessons might fit in their science curriculum syllabus, but the resources developed are not designed to match any of the current textbooks,” Light Feather told “So, Miguel and I set up this book to be a one-stop set of solutions for teachers who were frustrated or tired of not being able to teach nanoscience to their students.”

Light Feather is an excellent resource for teachers to rely on. For more than 10 years, she has been providing resources to teachers for every aspect of nanoscience education, from curriculum to development tools through her non-profit global education consortium. Her nano-centric expertise and savvy resource gathering are core components of this hallmark volume.

The authors also bring a huge amount of passion and creativity to the volume, both of which will help teachers move beyond “teaching to the test”.A return to stimulating creativity in the classroom and a curiosity for learning are the first steps to improving science education for both the teachers and the students.

Another important aspect of the book is that it can be used even by non-science teachers to help students develop critical thinking, Aznar explained. “One example we use involves the iPod nano. All kids know how MP3 players work, so we ask the question: ‘What if the iPod nano really were nanoscale – super small?’ Aznar's approach asks students questions that make them speculate about how a nano-sized iPod would work, such as: How would they hear the music, since a nanometer is smaller than the wavelength of sound? How would they choose a song? What kind of energy would it run on? “The students don’t have to be right, but they have to explain how they came to their conclusions.”

This approach, Aznar told will prove a benefit to all students as they enter the workforce, whether they go on in the sciences or not. The ability to use critical thinking helps students acquire and communicate information on any topic, Aznar said, adding “I have personally seen it used by teachers 'first hand' to help students learn all subjects, from science to writing persuasive essays.”

A Valuable Book for Workforce Training
The larger goal of the book is to give teachers perspective, hope and tools for helping teach the workforce of the 21rst century, and to get started as soon as possible.

“You cannot train a new workforce as technicians for a technology that has not been introduced in primary grades, nor explained to the guidance counselors who advise career paths to high school students,” Light Feather said.

“Manufacturing as we know it is coming to the end of its current cycle very rapidly, and it is unethical to continue this global race for new [nanoscale] self-assembling technologies without teaching the young children who will have to live in this new environment,” she added.

In one of its most distinguishing features, Nanoscience Education, Workforce Training, and K-12 Resources empowers those teachers looking for ways to introduce nanoscience learning into their classroom -- without the need to get an administrator’s permission or approvals for big budgets.

The book’s Resource Section lists many mostly free online resources, which promise not to strain local school budgets. Direct links are provided so that teachers can explore the resources.

Teachers at the lower grades (K-6) would benefit from the Informal Science section (Chapter 11), which offers simple lessons and resources for younger children. “Teachers that explore these resources with young students can attain the knowledge gradually without becoming scientists and create a 'WOW factor' for learning that stimulates curiosity in themselves and younger students,” Light Feather said.

The book taps into hundreds of nanoscience and nanotechnology resources and training programs, gathered from many noteworthy and award-winning sources, funded as Nanoscience Education Outreach Programs for K-12 students from U.S. Universities and Nano Centers. This highly significant impact of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is the focused investment by the eight participating agencies in the establishment and development of 85 multidisciplinary research and education centers devoted to nanoscience and nanotechnology. The curriculum is underused and scattered widely across the Internet, requiring teachers to spend hours of searching and dissemination.

For younger students, the book lists learning materials, tools, interactive web sites and even online games.

  • The Nanoworld Cineplex has been one of the most popular on-line resources for teachers for over a decade as a demonstration tool in their classroom. The Nanoworld Cineplex facilitates instruction for grades 6-12 in science and technology using a visual medium to show basic experiments related to nanotechnology.
  • NanoVenture: The Nanotechnology Board Game explores the connections between nanoscience, nanotechnology and society for high school students.
  • PBS DragonflyTV extends beyond television, offering a variety of standards-based learning tools for grades 4-6. The companion interactive website provides an annual children's science magazine, educators' guides, and outreach materials available to schools, homes, community organizations.
  • The Nanozone is designed for students ages 8 though 14 and explores the basics of nanotechology with interactive games, videos and comics. The site also features interviews with scientists and teacher classroom materials for lessons on nanotechnology.
  • NanoMission™ is a cutting edge gaming experience which educates players about basic concepts in nanoscience through real world practical applications from microelectronics to drug delivery for K-12 students.

“So many think that nanoscience should only be taught starting in high school,“ Light Feather said. “I think sixth grade is even too late. This book brings resources to teachers that let them fill the gaps even with just a few class hours.”

The book presents a 'bottom up' holistic approach, and specific tools to get there. Further, the book presents no mandates or a strict one-size-fits-all structure. It is written, as Light Feather said, “to let teachers find an entry-point. Just to be free to look through and find an approach or two they could use to introduce nanoscience to their students.”

For teachers who want more guidance, the book offers several roadmaps to follow for developing their curriculum, including the nanoscience K-12 teaching approach now being used in Taiwan.

With the book, one reviewer said, “Teachers at K-12 level will have wide options to consider and design their course materials, depending on respective school resources. This book will certainly help teachers to start their own program and students will have the opportunity to access excellent sources, including video and other presentation materials [across] the Internet, without getting lost.”