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Service Learning Team Working to Increase Kids’ Enthusiasm for Science

March 25, 2013

One group of engineering students is focusing on tiny ways to make big strides in education.

A 10-member Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net) team is developing a piece of curriculum that is good enough to become part of the national NISE Net catalog – a hub for anyone to access and learn more about nanoscale technology.

But their catalog item is also being developed with seventh-graders in mind.

Like all other teams in The Foster Family Center for Engineering Service Learning, the students on the NISE Net Team have a community-partner client. In this case, it’s a seventh-grade science teacher at Cruikshank Middle School who wants them to come up with something that will help keep his students engaged in science learning and spark their imaginations.

“We’re thinking about lasers and optics,” said team Leader Cesar Gamez, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student from Sacramento.

This work is one more way UC Merced is expanding its reach into the Merced community and throughout the scientific community.

Originally launched in 2005, the NISE Network is led by 14 museums and universities across the nation, and is funded by the National Science Foundation, according to its website.

The online catalog is a storehouse of educational products for use in informal education settings to engage people in nano science, engineering and technology. It features educational programs and activities, media, exhibits, evaluation reports, and tools and guides for professional educators. All products in the catalog created by the NISE Network are reviewed by scientists and educators, and evaluated with visitors, and most are available for free downloads, the website said.

UC Merced’s NISE Net students work with School of Engineering Professor Valerie Leppert as their faculty mentor. They will develop a lab based on ideas that work for the seventh-grade students, testing it on them to make sure the lab will keep kids engaged and interested in learning.

“We want them to learn about wavelengths and light properties,” team member Bianca Martinez said. She’s a fifth-year bioengineering student from Paramount who got interested in nanotechnology and its medical applications after taking a course at UC Merced. “The biggest challenge is how to convey the information.”

Gamez said the team is considering using Blu-ray and DVD technology – something the seventh-graders can relate to – to illustrate wavelengths and different kinds of lenses. 

The team also must come up with tests that can measure the curriculum’s success, Gamez said. The team anticipates having the lab finished and ready for testing next semester. Once the testing is done, the lab can be submitted for consideration for the NISE Network catalog.

The team has a budget and constraints just like any firm that would be tasked with meeting a client’s needs.

But in this case, the students also get to teach and expand people’s knowledge about nanotechnology.

“I really want to help the community,” Martinez said. “We really want to come up with something that is safe and fun for the kids.”