200 High School Students in Los Angeles Pilot Modules for an Emerging TANMS-based Curriculum

Achievement date: 

Four graduate students of the NSF-funded Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC) for Translational Applications of Nanoscale Multiferroic Systems (TANMS), headquartered at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), are collaborating with a Lawndale High School teacher on the creation of new high school science modules focused on TANMS. The Electromagnetism and Nanoscale Motor Modules were piloted with 200 high school students at Centinela Valley High School District in May 2017. Additional training on how to integrate and implement the new modules into existing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum is currently underway at a Nanoscience Teacher Institute program for K-12 teachers, with the support of STEM curriculum experts from the Schools Program at the UCLA Mathematics Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) Center for Excellence in Engineering and Diversity (CEED) and at the UCLA Science Project.


The new TANMS Science Modules had immediate impact on 200 high school students enrolled in 7 physics classes at Lawndale High school, which are currently taught by Maria Lyn Genota. The students were exposed to supplemental curriculum activities designed by their teacher as part of her TANMS Research Experience for Teachers (RET) project, with ongoing curriculum support from TANMS faculty and graduate researchers. Data captured with the 200 students informs the next phase of the project, which aims to provide science teachers in the greater Los Angeles area with the content, tools, and materials to create similar experiences for their students. Outcome measures assessing the impact of the modules on the high school students are also evolving.

Currently teachers from five schools and across three school districts are engaged. The long-term goal is to establish the new TANMS Science Modules as an A-G (high school) course that will become part of the UC MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement) capstone offered to students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, as well as to other districts in Southern California and those associated with TANMS-affiliated universities. An associated 6−8 week MESA Competition Project will drive regional adoption of the course in 2017−2018, with the TANMS UC-MESA capstone class targeted for implementation during the 2018−19 academic year. These activities will disseminate the TANMS science-related curriculum widely, integrating the Center’s new concepts directly into the classroom.

Additional professional development opportunities available through the curriculum initiative provide teachers with the opportunity to work with both engineering scientists who possess a deep level of content knowledge, as well as educational experts who can offer support in building pedagogical competencies that enact project-based learning experiences in the classroom that are aligned to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).


Under the guidance of TANMS’ principal investigator Professor Jane Chang and Dr. Maria del Pilar O’Cadiz, graduate students Kevin Fitzell, Maggie Xiao, Cai Chen, and Stephen Sasaki teamed up with Maria Lyn Genota, a participant in the Center’s RET program, to advance the TANMS high school modules. Working during the summer and fall of 2016, Genota, Chang, Fitzell and Xiao selected the TANMS nano-motor testbed as a motivational focus. The team then developed supplemental activities aligned to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and a culminating TANMS magnetism unit (called the TANMS Science Module), which includes several hands-on demonstrations and a hands-on electromagnetic (EM) motor design challenge.

The first TANMS Science Module was disseminated each quarter of the 2016-2017 academic year, in the form videos supplementing Genota’s regular lessons. For example: the unit on linear motion and gravity is supplemented with content regarding drag forces and planetary orbits; the unit on energy and momentum conservation is supplemented with content regarding hydroelectric dams; and, the unit on rotational inertia is supplemented with content regarding precessional motion. The videos built the students’ knowledge base in preparation for a week of teaching visits by Fitzell and Xiao, during the final quarter. The visit covered topics on magnetic materials and electromagnetic induction.

Two TANMS Science Modules now exist and feature distinct elements that reinforce NGSS requirements. The approach moves teachers beyond the use of the commonly available curriculum materials, out-of-date activities, and overly streamlined investigations for K-12 students. The broader goal of the TANMS K-12 curriculum effort is to increase teacher agency by encouraging teachers to break the silos of three NGSS dimensions, including: (1) practices, (2) cross-cutting concepts, and (3) core ideas. Teachers are well-supported in creating more blended learning experiences for their students through engagement with the project-based modules that bring new state-of-the-art science into the classroom while fostering students’ science interests, efficacies, and STEM career aspirations.

An application-driven approach backs the TAMNS Science Modules in order to reinforce the principles of electricity and magnetism with a particular focus on the magnetic structure of materials and electromagnetic induction in electromagnetic motors. This application-focus, closely linked to the research done at TANMS, naturally aligns with the NGSS concepts of electricity and magnetism covered during this final section of the Physics course. As part of their lessons, students study magnetic ordering in materials and how this ordering can be manipulated in various ways – Including how it can be entirely destroyed with thermal energy; they also directly observe how magnetization can be effectively “switched off” using heat. A series of group projects further allows students to study the coupling between electricity and magnetism. One project features the design and construction of a rudimentary electric motor; other demonstrations focus on electromagnetic induction.

The four-day pilot implementation at Lawndale High School culminated with a closing ceremony where all of the students who participated gathered to be recognized for their contributions to the new TANMS educational effort.  Members of the TANMS leadership team also provided inspirational talks that invited the students to explore their potentials as future engineers. 

The 2017 Nanoscience Teacher Institute will further disseminate the new curriculum to high school teachers in the Los Angeles area. Teachers from the MESA program working in STEM-focused schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have been recruited to participate. By incorporating the new modules into their curriculum, the teachers align their practice to NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas, Engineering Design, and Project Based Learning principles. Fitzell and Xiao will again present scientific content and demonstrate hands-on activities. Formal teacher interviews and surveys will assess the Institute’s impact on the teachers and their students; gather information on the curriculum implementation experiences of the teachers; further improve the first TANMS Science Modules; and, guide the development of future TANMS science curricula and teacher professional development institutes.

TANMS has secured initial approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at UCLA to collect data and information concerning the program’s pilot experiences – including student assessment surveys before and after the class – to evaluate the impact of the TANMS module, teacher surveys, interviews, and observations of TANMS pilot implementation.

As a result of these efforts, Lawndale High School has joined the TANMS ERC as a pre-college partner. The unique capacity of the TANMS ERC to facilitate inter-institutional partnerships to effectively leverage the human resources, knowledge capital, and logistical capacities of each partner agency makes possible a novel K-12 collaborative effort to advance STEM curriculum in the classroom.