Friday, January 23, 2009

Can a new curriculum in nanotechnology improve science education?

I was at a nanotechnology meeting and this question was thrown around. Since American kids, in general, don't like high school chemistry and don't even take physics, could we offer them an alternative science course that was developed by scientists. Would this be better than current science classes and who might take a course in nanotechnology?

Most of the scientists and educators at this NSF sponsored meeting agreed that our high school chemistry curriculum is in a sad state. There is no time for labs and the labs that we have are high stress cookbook affairs. There is little insight into the process of scientific discovery. There are many teachers who don't have the proper background in chemistry (i.e. not chemistry or chemical engineering). We don't have national standards for these well defined courses. and the list goes on.

So what if we developed a really good science class that integrated chemistry and physics and was driven by discovery learning, well trained teachers, and exciting applications and called it nanotechnology? What if we started with what is relevant to kids (their bodies, their gadgets, their environment) rather than significant figures, balancing equations, dropping bowling balls from airplanes? Could this work?

With the high emphasis on 5 point, advanced placement courses in high school, who would take this new class? Maybe it wouldnt attract that population of students, but perhaps it would engage a whole new demographic of students who think that science is just something that old white men do in isolated labs in boring places.

Maybe it could work - the next question is how would could it be implemented.