Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Nanotechnology Literacy

Foresight Nanotech Institute's 2007 Unconference included sessions to brainstorm nanotechnology literacy. I facilitated a diverse group in discussing what patterns in nanotechnology everyone should understand.

I described the approach I take to teaching nanotechnology to
precocious high school students at UC Santa Cruz's COSMOS program every summer. It's similar to the approach that KnowledgeContext uses to teach middle school students how to understand and evaluate technology, using the ICE-9 questions (shown above).

The conference group agreed to use the ICE-9 questions to organize our ideas. We also agreed to an audience at about the 8th grade (12 or 13 years old) for two reasons: (1) To reach adults, we probably have to emulate newspapers in writing for an 8th grade level (or below) and (2) To reach anyone, we would have to rely on some established organization and the school system (domestically and globally) is a proven mechanism for getting information to a broad populace.

Here is what we noted on our flipcharts (click on the image for a 3+ MB PDF):

Both brainstorming sessions sped by and we could have used much more time to discuss what issues are most important to know about. I felt as if I were cutting off fruitful lines of discussion, but wanted to make sure that everyone had the chance to voice their suggestions (a priority in a brainstorming session). Since many issues are complex, even philosophical, (e.g. how much should a person, like a typist, know about the technology they're using?) we could have benefited from several more hours. If we had that much time, we could have breakout groups to work through issues whose details do not interest the whole group, but whose summary would.

Even more time would be valuable for distilling conclusions down to what patterns we could teach as answers to the ICE-9 questions.
Once we accomplished that, we'd want time for "implementation," which would be devising classroom activities to illustrate those patterns. How can we make participation in the activity convey a visceral sense of the answer we're trying to convey. This is important because much of what the teacher says will be missed or soon forgotten by students. Their memory for a physical, social interaction will be much longer and much more likely to be applied in the future. Please post comments that include suggestions for nanotechnological answers to the ICE-9 questions, ways to teach them, how to make this an appealing program for schools and districts to adopt, and anything else related.

The "Disruptive vs. Transformative" graph shown on chart "5 How Change?" came from another session led by Phil Bowmaster. PJ attended both sessions and drew this at ours: