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Identification of Misconceptions Related to Size and Scale through a Nanotechnology-Based K-12 Activity

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Student Reflection, Self-Perception, Misconceptions, and Uncertainty

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Joyce Seifried The College of New Jersey

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Joyce Seifried is currently an undergrad at The College of New Jersey in the both the Technological Studies and Special Education Departments anticipating graduating in 2017. Her summer of 2014 research was based on using nanotechnology in the high school classroom by teaching students about hydrophobic and superhydrophobic surfaces as well as using silver nanoparticles as a DNA nucleotide base indicator.

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Manuel Alejandro Figueroa The College of New Jersey

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Dr. Manuel Figueroa is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Technological Studies at The College of New Jersey. His research involves the development of nanoparticle coatings for various applications, including surface enhanced Raman scattering and anti-fouling surfaces. He is also committed to developing nanotechnology based lessons that integrate the STEM disciplines.

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Nano-related activities are filtering into K-12 classrooms in part due to modern technological advances in the areas of healthcare, electronics and renewable energy. These industries benefit from a deep understanding of science at the nanoscale. Not only do nano-related activities help motivate students to pursue careers in engineering and technological fields, but they can also help identify common misconceptions that exist in K-12 science classrooms. In this study, an inquiry-based lesson on the topic of surface wettability was implemented in three middle school and high school technology classrooms. Students were asked to measure the contact angle of a water droplet on transparent glass surfaces with varying degrees of wettability (hydrophilic, hydrophobic and superhydrophobic). Based on their observations and angle measurements students were asked to write a description and make a sketch of what they thought the surface structure would look like under a microscope. Qualitative analysis was done to analyze students’ drawings and written descriptions. Students’ responses were grouped into topics to identify patterns related to the curriculum taught at their respective grade level, i.e. chemistry for high school students, physical science for middle school students.

Most students determined the surface coatings were different enough from each other to cause the water droplets to either bead up or spread out on the surface. The drawings of what the coating structure would look like under a microscope depicted atomic level repulsive/attractive forces surrounding the water droplet. This highlights a common misconception about what can actually be seen and not seen under a microscope. Students also repeatedly attributed the shape of the droplet to positive/negative charges rather than the surface tension on the surface. This can possibly relate to not comprehending the existence of varying length scales between the atomic and macro scales. In summary, the presentation will discuss how inquiry-based activities on the topic of nanoscale science can serve to identify misconceptions in science classrooms and guide instruction in this area.

Seifried, J., & Figueroa, M. A. (2016, June), Identification of Misconceptions Related to Size and Scale through a Nanotechnology-Based K-12 Activity Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25513

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