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Explore the Surprising Power of Science

“This is so cool!” is becoming a favorite phrase of teenagers in science classrooms all over Virginia. Innovative teachers are encouraging their students to touch, manipulate and experience the surprising power of science. And guess what? These students are deciding that science is cool. Recently, I met with two high school Chemistry teachers and talked with them about why they teach Nanoscience in their classrooms. Why they feel it is important to explore Nanotechnology and how this experience might help their students in the 21st Century workforce. Watch this Science Matters video featuring the MathScience Innovation Center's Nanofellows to learn more.

Lynn Novak, a teacher at Powhatan High School and Stephanie Hall, a teacher at Cosby High School spend their days engaging and inspiring our children to want to know more. They both teach Chemistry - a challenging job since Chemistry is a science that is not observable. So how do you teach students about things they can't see?  How do you teach them about things on a nanoscale? And why does this matter?  

Nanotechnology is a new and important field that brings together many diverse areas of science including medicine, architecture, electronics, physics and chemistry. Even though we cannot see a nanoparticle with the naked eye we are surrounded by the effects of the nanoscale every day. And what's even more important for our children to know is that Nanotechnology careers have a big future. The National Science Foundation recently estimated job projection for the U.S. to near one million workers in Nanotechnology by 2015 and the U.S. market value of products using Nanotechnology is estimated to be $1 trillion by 2020. So why do teachers include Nanotechnology in their curriculum? To prepare their students to compete in this developing career field.

Ms. Novak and Ms. Hall became Nanotechnology Fellows last summer at the MathScience Innovation Center. As a result of the teacher training they obtained in the program, Ms. Hall and Ms. Novak implemented classroom experiences for their students to explore Nanoscience. Dr. Hollee Freeman, Executive Director of the MathScience Innovation Center, explains that “the Nanotechnology Fellows Program allowed teachers to work in the Nanotechnology field and to explore issues and concepts related to Nanoscience. They worked with Center instructors and other experts in the field to explore concepts and take hands-on activities back to their classrooms.”

Among the activities Ms. Novak and Ms. Hall took back to their students was the one which featured forces and interactions at both the Nano and Macro scale. Ms. Novak’s students used their own ear wax to disrupt hydrogen bonding. She explained that the students “were able to see that the hydrogen bonding which was there initially, disappeared.” Ms. Hall used a demonstration using sodium polyacrylate from disposable diapers to illustrate how this substance and water combines to produce a gel matrix - an example of intermolecular forces and osmosis. These two activities helped students learn that there is a difference in which types of forces dominate interactions at the macro- and the nanoscale. And they got to experience these forces first hand. Now that’s cool!

Exploratory and hands-on training for teachers is important to the success of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in our schools and encourages students to pursue science careers. When students experience the surprise and the “Wow!” of a scientific concept - they are going to remember what they learned. When they make new discoveries daily in their classrooms and work with inspirational teachers, they will be motivated to keep exploring.  

This summer, the MathScience Innovation Center is again offering teachers a wonderful opportunity to be challenged in a new field and learn best practices for implementation in the classroom. Click here for information about VA STEM CoNNECT, the MathScience Innovation Center’s 2013 Summer Teacher training program.

Students can also learn more about Nanotechnology in the “I am Nano” course to be taught by MathScience Innovation Center Nanofellows at the Summer Regional Governor's School.  

For more information on Nanotechnology go to Imagine Nano the MathScience Innovation Center’s Nanotechnology website.

Article by Debbie Mickle, Science Matters Project Manager

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