The world of education is currently facing a significant challenge – keeping their curriculum up to date with the fast pace of new scientific research, whilst keeping the material manageable for young people. There have been many heated discussions of how best to tackle this issue in Russia as well as around the world. High-level discussions of curriculum often leave out the most important factor however – the teachers. The success of recent nanotechnology classes has provided proof of the importance of good teachers for effective science education.
Nanotechnology as a lure
Many students from high schools have won prizes in federal-level science competitions for their nanotechnology projects. We asked the teachers from the successful teams what they though was most important to their success – high equipment budgets, including the buzzword “nano”, or something else?
Anastasia Matyatina is a physics teacher at Lyceum #1511 in Moscow. She says:
“Our high school collaborates with the National Nuclear University. We try to demonstrate the university’s laboratories to our students, but no serious work can be done there of course – “adult” scientists prefer not to deal with “kids”.
"When we got NANOEDUCATORs in our classroom it was amazing. Students were really fascinated by the chance to learn in a more hands-on way”.
Sergey Yudakov, the physics teacher at High School #14 in Tambov, Russia, defines this issue more exactly:
“Nanotechnology in a high school make sense only as a lure, to get kids interested in the science. As far as the curriculum in concerned, students should learn the basics of physics and chemistry first.”
But when the school was equipped with a special classroom for nanotechnology teaching, the students were very keen - and even decorated the room with graffiti, with the school’s permission.
High school students decorated the walls in the nanotechnology classroom with graffiti. Their teacher says it is important to learn the basics in physics first.
University teachers setting a good example
At the university level, there are many examples of successful programs to introduce high school students to nanotechnology. At Herzen University in St Petersburg, which specializes in teacher training, about 300 high school students visit a special nanotechnology lab in the physics department every year. Irina Popova, an associate professor at Herzen, thinks that this program is actually very valuable to the university, as it allows them to talent-spot promising students for the future.
Professor Giacomo Torzo from Padua University in Italy points out that universities can provide equipment fitting particular educational needs:
“Training of young students through experimental work with modern devices does provide a strong stimulation for deeper involvement in scientific studies.
"NANOEDUCATOR and similar scanning probe microscopes (SPMs) designed for educational use are surely precious tools.
“Using standard SPMs for teaching may be in fact quite expensive (both in time and money), and therefore this approach must be restricted to a small group of students.
"I agree that it is worth to involve people in science as early as possible -at least when aiming to select excellent students to be encouraged to pursue higher education in nanotechnology.”
But why has this practice not yet been adopted more widely yet? It seems that the personal charisma and the quality of the teacher is the most important factor for such a system to work.
“’Can I design a perpetual-motion machine? Can I work with magnetic fields? Can I make a coilgun?’ These are samples of questions the high school students ask me during their visits and I try to suggest something for everyone”, says Alexander Zolkin, from Novosibirsk State University in Russia.
Professor Zolkin established a pre-college educational nanotechnology laboratory at NSU, and more than 500 teens visit it yearly. About 20% become really interested, and only 5-10 students stay for long-term experimental work. All of the attendees typically go on to study at university later.
Follow the leader
From the systemic development point of view it is very important not only to have enthusiastic and skilled teachers, but also to have specialists who are able to reproduce their own skills in other people.
Mikhail Prosekin, the teacher of physics and chemistry at Irkutsk Lyceum #2 and associate professor at Irkutsk University, first ventured into nanotechnology education in 2009, when the Lyceum obtained a NANOEDUCATOR system.
Mikhail Prosekin in Irkutsk (Russia) is teaching high school students and simultaneously runs the regional teacher-training center.
Just the next year, Mikhail convinced some of his high school students to participate in the All-Russia Nanotechnology Olympiad in Moscow. Only one from the team – Danil Kozlov – went on to win, but all the participants were enthusiastic about the competition and the science, without exception. The Lyceum team has participated in all the large scientific school contests since then. In 2012 they collected 4 prizes, and this spring everybody from the team has won a contest at least once. Two girls – Maria Malutina and Ekaterina Kholodilova – also advanced to the final of the INTEL ISEF competition.
Now, both girls are studying at Irkutsk University. They are still working in the nanotechnology laboratory, but are already doing some teaching themselves. Danil Kozlov is studying at Moscow State University, and plans to return to Irkutsk after graduation and teach school students simultaneously with development of his own scientific career. And Mikhail Prosekin is organizing the Regional Educational Center, with a special focus on training teachers from other schools in Irkutsk and even from neighboring regions.
Ambition to change the world
In the documentary film “Russia Without Geeks" it is shown how important for teens is to choose their own way in their life. The central character is Anton – the university student undertaking scientific training with NT-MDT Company. He says:
“My father is a bus driver in a small town. He likes what he’s doing. I can’t explain him what the word ‘nanotechnology’ means. But I see no problem here. I just love what I’m doing in this lab”.
Given the chance, young people’s dreams and ambitions can drive them throughout their studies, and lead them to the discoveries they will make later in their careers. Good teachers can help create the right environment for these ambitions to flourish – creating an inspired generation who are well equipped to make the world a better place.
This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by NT-MDT Spectrum Instruments.
For more information on this source, please visit NT-MDT Spectrum Instruments.