There are quite a few 1-3 day teacher workshops on nanotechnology offered around the world. Do they work? Can a middle school or high school teacher learn about these new advances in research AND learn how to effectively integrate it into their classrooms in such a short time? Most teachers who take nanotechnology workshops come away excited about the new applications that they have learned about - quantum dots are beautiful, gold nanoshells have tremendous potential, buckyballs are fun,and who wouldn't be excited about the idea of cheap and easy methods to clean up oil spills or purify contaminated water. However, how much of this content really gets back to the students?

Nanoscience topics are based on quantum mechanics and are challenging for everyone, especially for teachers that may have had excellent scientific training but have been out of college and the research environment for years/decades or for teachers that may have not have strong science backgrounds when they entered teaching. In 3 days, can we teach teachers about how gold nanoshells work via plasmon resonance, how scanning tunneling microscopes (STM) work via electron tunneling, how different chiral structures in nanotubes lead to different properties (metal or semiconductors), or how how the fluorescence of quantum dots is determined by it size because quantum confinement? In 3 days can teachers learn enough about any nanoscience topic to feel confident enough to teach it to their classes? In 3 days, can teachers take this newly acquired knowledge and tailor it to meet the needs of their students, align the requirements of the testing bodies, and are within the limited budgets of their science labs?

There are lots of articles, infomercials, products that claim to help people learn things fast: to read, to paint, to play piano, to manage effectively, to lose weight, to get abs of steel, learn latin. However, the real secret, and it is no secret, is time and practice. How long does it take to learn to be a surgeon, or a concert pianist, or an effective teacher, or great computer programmer?

Peter Norvig, the Director of Research at Google, has the "the best job in the world at the best company in the world" and some interesting essays online, including Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years In this article, he discusses how long it takes to really master a subject. He reiterates that people learn by doing, that people learn things over time, that we are always in such a rush to learn or teach something that we don't really accomplish our goals.

I run a teacher internship program and a full semester course CHEM 570 Nanotechnology for Teachers. I don't want to train teachers to be come nanoscience researchers. It takes a minimum of 10 years+ to become a research scientist (4 years undergrad, 4-6 years in graduate school, and then postdoctoral research). It probably takes even longer become an effective high school teacher (and a lot of patience, management skills and emotional maturity). However, if we are going to spend taxpayer money on nanoscience training, I do want to make it effective. I want teachers to learn about new developments in physical science, bring these applications back to their classrooms and translate these findings into lessons where kids have real learning experiences that will help them learn scientific content, motivate them to study/do homework/pay attention in class(this is one of the real issues with American students), perhaps think about careers in science and engineering, and to become adults who are scientifically literate.

We need to rethink these short courses and workshops for teachers in nanotechnology. We need to engage teachers over an extended period. Have a long term commitment to teaching advanced scientific content and helping teachers use it in their classrooms. Isolated workshops may be engaging and beneficial but it is too separated from the teacher's curriculum. Just in time teaching, ie. teaching the content to the teachers, when they are teaching the subjects in their classes and making it relevant to their teaching goals, will make these programs more effective.

If you have read this long blog and are interested in viewing our semester long graduate level course CHEM 570 Nanotechnology for Teachers sponsored by the NSF through The Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University, class recordings are freely available at The first half of each Thursday evening course meeting, session 1, is on topics in Nanotechnology. The second half or session 2, is on Concept Developments. If your institution would like to participate in this course next year, please feel free to contact me.

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Tags: 570, CHEM, education, learning, nanoscience, nanotechnology, science, teachers, workshops


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Comment by OYEDIRAN Oyewale Akanfe on October 30, 2010 at 6:26pm
i want to be part of this nanotechnology does not exist in the university where i work at all please i seek your assistance for better understanding of this

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Comment by K. MOHAN on December 8, 2009 at 5:49pm
If u ask me further i can teach how to write science fiction in 1 week. the same will apply to the nano science too.

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Comment by K. MOHAN on December 8, 2009 at 5:47pm
I am a science communicator and a science writer.I am also a science fiction writere. I am also trying to grasp this emerging discipline of science.It is the ability of the science communicator to grasp the complicated science and put it in a nutshell.But if u ask me if have done it, no , not yet. Once i get the hang of i would be ready with an article.
I am not against the conducting of full-scale courses for nano-science and tech. they should be conducted but efforts should be made made to document the science in a brief.
What is a stem cell i did not know to begin with . after going through materials i was able to grasp the same.Now i know little bit about, nano tubes, bucky balls, fullerenes, nano shells .
In cosmetics nano Zn O2 and TiO2 are used. The users have the right to know how they are manufactured?It is the obligation of the manufacturer to give such details to the consumers.
Probably someone may come out with a teach yourself nano science book.Those who have already grasped what it is can do it.
Anyway i appreciate what u have said in your blog, one has to sink deep to test the depth.Thank u.

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Smartphone-Based Extension of the Curcumin/Cellophane pH Sensing Method

Pd/Ni Synergestic Activity for Hydrogen Oxidation Reaction in Alkaline Conditions

The potential use of cellophane test strips for the quick determination of food colours

pH and CO2 Sensing by Curcumin-Coloured Cellophane Test Strip

Polymeric Honeycombs Decorated by Nickel Nanoparticles

Directed Deposition of Nickel Nanoparticles Using Self-Assembled Organic Template,

Organometallic deposition of ultrasmooth nanoscale Ni film,

Zigzag-shaped nickel nanowires via organometallic template-free route

Surface analytical characterization of passive iron surface modified by alkyl-phosphonic acid layers

Atomic Force Microscopy Studies of Alkyl-Phosphonate SAMs on Mica

Amorphous iron formation due to low energy heavy ion implantation in evaporated 57Fe thin films

Surface modification of passive iron by alkylphosphonic acid layers

Formation and structure of alkylphosphonic acid layers on passive iron

Structure of the nonionic surfactant triethoxy monooctylether C8E3 adsorbed at the free water surface, as seen from surface tension measurements and Monte Carlo simulations

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