Changing education priorities in the U.S. school system is like trying to turn a battleship on a dime. With differing state standards and curricula, introducing new fields such as nanotechnology can be a difficult task, reports The Washington Post.
The Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network is developing and distributing programs aimed at engaging schools in nanoscale science and engineering education, said Carol Lynn Alpert, director of strategic projects at the Museum of Science, Boston, and a coprincipal investigator of the network.
"We are living in a democracy, imperfect as it is, in which the notion is that we jointly make decisions about the investment of our research dollars," Alpert said. "It's important that people have a sense of what is the new science."
Nanotechology, the science of manipulating matter at the smallest of scales to create new material, has the added complication of being a multi-disciplinary science involving physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, engineering and technology. Some scientists say that nanotechnology will pave the way to create effective medicines, cleaner fuel and other products to improve quality of life. But most school kids dont' even know what it is.
Leah Gonzalez, 14, an eighth-grader at Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church, Va. first learned about nanotechnology from a website at the Wilson Center nanotechnology program. She was on a team of kids that entered the 2006 competition sponsored by the First Lego League, an international children's program that promotes interest in science with a hands-on interactive robotics program.
"Everybody should learn what it is," said Gonzalez. "It could be incorporated into science curriculum for different age groups and taught differently. But I think it would be great to teach students about the new science that they might be working in when they grow up."
NISEN is part of a consortium of 14 museums, research centers and educational outreach institutions also working to educate the public about nanotechnology. The multi-pronged educational effort may or may not work, according to Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. Supplemental materials and many professional development programs are helpful for some teachers but often don't reach far enough, he said.
"The alpha science teacher does look forward to these new things and finds a way to get the subject into his or her classroom," Wheeler said. "But they really can't put a lot of time into that because of the standards and the testing."