Classroom Nano: Middle School Workshop

Vrylena Olney

Many of our partners have indicated that they do classroom activities of some type, so I'm going to be highlighting a few examples of partners incorporating nano into classroom programs. Please let us know what you've been doing with NISE Net or nano materials for K-12 audiences! Email Rae Ostman at rostman at sciencenter dot org.

Image by Michael Wyszomierski

Lisa Anderson from the Science & Discovery Center in Elmira, NY recently ran a three hour program on nanotechnology for 5th - 7th graders at the Corning Community College, the second such program the SDC has run for middle schoolers. Lisa was nice enough to send me her lesson plan for the workshop, which included activities on measurement and the size of nano, plus some new activities intended to help students understand some of the challenges involved in working with materials at that scale. Many of the activities are included in the NanoDays kit, but they're also available for download from the catalog. I've provided links wherever possible.

Each exercise was followed by a discussion of how the activity applies to real life and a question and answer session. Here's Lisa's lesson plan:

  1. The students arranged themselves from largest to smallest.

  2. Using a series of pictures Lisa downloaded from DragonFly TV the students arranged a set of images from largest to smallest (ant, flea, dime thickness, dust, hair, red blood cell, bacteria, virus, DNA, and an atom). The NISE Net has a similar game: Sizing Things Down, and you can also use pictures from our image collection.

  3. The kids did a slight adaptation of the Cutting It Down to Nano activity from the NISE Net catalog in which visitors are challenged to cut a small strip of paper in half as many times as they can. The students started with a paper 20 cm ruler, which they cut in half. That left them with a 10 cm ruler, which they cut in half again, leaving them with a 5 cm ruler. They cut their 5 cm ruler in half again to get 2.5 cm, at which point they cut just 1 cm, equaling 10 mm. Finally they cut 1 mm out of the 1 cm, which left them with a ruler that was 1 million nm.

  4. From there, they discussed how size affects structure, gravity, and surface area. Lisa used the Exploring Forces - Gravity activity from the NanoDays kit, but added 2 other cups so the students could see the gradual change in size affecting gravity.

  5. Next, Lisa handed out smarties candies and ask the students to chew one up fast then suck on another and think about which dissolves the fastest. She followed this with the NanoDays kit activity Exploring Properties - Surface Area where the students discovered that a crushed antacid tablet dissolves faster than a whole antacid tabled.

    Exploring Properties - Surface Area activity

  6. Next Lisa discussed structure. She used Popsicle sticks to demonstrate a solid crystal (Popsicle sticks glued together straight), a plain liquid (Popsicle sticks glued randomly), and finally liquid crystal (Popsicle sticks with a hole in the middle and held together with a pipe cleaner; this demonstrates fixed orientation but rotating position). She then did the Exploring Materials - Liquid Crystals activity with the students, introducing the thermo paper and giving each student a chance to use it. They then made their own thermo paper following the activity kit instructions.

  7. Lisa then started a discussion about how scientists deal with structures they cannot see by having the kids frost a cupcake blindfolded. This was a big hit.

  8. Next, Lisa divided the students into 2 groups and gave them two structures sealed in a green plastic garbage bag. She gave them ten minutes to try to figure out the structure, either working cooperatively or competitively. At the end of the 10 minutes they discussed what they had but Lisa did not show the students the actual structure.

  9. That led to a discussion of scanning probe microscopes and using the NISE Net's Exploring Tools - SPMs activity in which the students use a flexible magnet as a model for a SPM. The students felt the attraction and repulsion of the tip of the magnet "probe strip" as they dragged it down the magnet surface.

  10. Next, the group discussed nano structures, especially carbon, and nanotubes versus buckyballs. They used the fold-your-own buckyballs from the NanoDays kit to make buckyball models. (For more carbon nanotubes, check out the World of Carbon Nanotubes stage presentation, or the Dragonfly TV carbon nanotube hockey stick episode.)

  11. The discussion of nanostructures led to the ferrofluid activity from the NanoDays kit.

  12. Finally, the students played Dragonfly TV's NanoBlast boardgame, provided in their 2009 NanoDays kit. Lisa contacted Dragonfly TV in advance, and they sent her extra game boards so all the students could play at once. According to Lisa, this worked out well and the students were able to use what they learned to play the game.

There are a few things Lisa would do differently next time. She's hoping to expand the program to a second course for students who have taken the first course, to build on the things they've already learned. She's also planning change the timing of the activity, since December is busy for many parents, it was hard to schedule.

For more information about this specific program, contact Lisa Anderson at the Science & Discovery Center.