In Harry Kroto's words, kids today live in a GYW world, an environment ruled by the three dominant applications that allow instantaneous access to a world of information: Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia. But information doesn't equal knowledge, and this easy access belies generations of innovation built on the observation of forces and processes of the natural world accompanied by repeated manipulation and experimentation.
The “inscrutable technology” of today (again, Kroto's words) is at least partially to blame for the lack of students becoming engaged in science and engineering. The same technology that enables children to easily make photos and videos obscures the interaction of light and chemical reactions that are at the core of traditional photography. What do the components of a cell phone (if you can even hack into one) teach about either photography or sound transmission compared to what is learned by taking apart a Brownie camera, or an old corded telephone?
These were only some of the points that Kroto made in his plenary address on Day 1 at the Global Nanoscale Science Engineering and Education workshop held by the NCLT in Arlington, VA on Nov. 12-14. But Kroto was much more entertaining than my brief excerpt conveys. His talk was filled with short examples of current research in nanotech and accompanied by animated imagery that verged on the manic side of the bipolar power point presentations for the morning.
Two things impressed me most about his talk. First was his realization of the endangered nature of science teaching in the States, beginning at the elementary level. Many senior research faculty in academic tenured positions seem totally unaware of the realities of elementary science education today – the lack of attention to science under NCLB, the eroding rigor of instruction as “academic freedom” bills (like that recently passed in Louisiana) attempt to introduce creationism into public schools, the closed noose of standards and assessments that prevent the incorporation of emerging technologies into curriculum. Kroto speaks of some of these with the air of someone who has personally encountered them – maybe he is a grandparent with kids in some local school system that he's worried about.
The second thing that impressed me was his willingness to take on some of these challenges. With all my science surfing on the Web, I'm embarrassed to admit that I hadn't come across either of his projects. Vega Science Trust is a video portal with over 200 programs, many of which have been broadcast on BBC2. They can be viewed for free online, and ordered for home use, commercial broadcast, or library archives. There's a special series for schools with articles and worksheets to download as well. In 2007, Kroto initiated a second series, Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology ( GEOSET) with downloadable teaching resources. Materials are indexed by topic and target audience age, are fully searchable, and include a feedback form. Both GEOSET and Vega are designed to accept uploaded contributions as well at to deliver ones created by Kroto and team. Both have a wide range of content, including material on nanotechnology.
If you don't know about these resources, check them out and pass them on to your favorite teachers and museum educators – of use them to build up your own content knowledge, like I will.
The meeting continues tomorrow and can be viewed by webcast. It is also being recorded, so you can order it when it's ready. On Friday, NISE Net will have more of a presence, with posters as well as speakers.