Hands-on Activity Quantum Dots and the Harkess Method of Critical Reading

Quick Look

Grade Level: 9

Time Required: 1 hour

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

Group Size: 0

Activity Dependency:

Subject Areas: Algebra, Biology, Chemistry, Data Analysis and Probability, Life Science, Measurement, Problem Solving, Reasoning and Proof, Science and Technology

Photo shows four students and a teacher sitting and laughing around a table with books open and a chalkboard backdrop. A Harkness table being used at The College Preparatory School.
Working together in engineering.
Copyright © 2009 The College Preparatory School, WikimediaCommons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:College_Prep_Harkness_Table.jpg


Students explore the applications of quantum dots by researching a journal article and answering framing questions used in a class-wide discussion. This Harkness method discussion helps students become critical readers of scientific literature.

Engineering Connection

Nanomedicine is the cutting edge in bioengineering. This field has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 20 years due to the advent of new detection technologies. A combination of biology and nanotechnology, bionanotechnology is of great interest in the biomedical industry. It is commonly used when many fields (such as biology, chemistry, nanomedicine and engineering) overlap. The journal article introduces students to advanced scientific writing and reading, important skills for engineers.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Critically read and analyze scientific literature.
  • Review and discuss a journal article.
  • Explain how bionanotechnology encorporates quantum dots.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Conduct research to inform intentional inventions and innovations that address specific needs and wants. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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Materials List

Each student needs:

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/van_membrane_activity4] to print or download.


When you hear the word nanotechnology, do you really know what people are talking about? Why is it so important? When we refer to nanotechnology, "nano" signifies the unit prefix meaning 10-9, a billionth of a unit. Although such a small unit may seem insignificant, many fields of science and engineering use this measurement to design and create new materials.

This activity will provide you with a basic understanding of a few topics related to science and engineering. You will receive information on quantum dots and how they relate to biology. Then you will read a journal article in order to learn more about nanomedicine before we hold a class discussion about the what we've read.



Bionanotechnology has become one of the fastest growing fields in the medical industry. With doctors, engineers and scientists working together on this new technology, complex devices and processes are being made at an extremely small scale.

Present students with the lecture information on quantum dots and how they relate to biology. Then have students read the journal article. Then conduct the Harkness Framing Questions activity, which requires students to research more about nanomedicine and respond to questions regarding the article. By doing this, students are on the track towards becoming more critical readers of scientific literature.

Before the Activity

With the Students

  1. With the class, present the background information, as provided on the teacher's lecture notes.
  2. Hand out the Alivisatos journal article for students to read and interpret.
  3. After reading, arrange desks in a circle and facilitate a class discussion in the Harkness method. Refer to the discussion questions handout. In this method, all participants sit in a circle and freely express their thoughts and observations regarding the article. By sharing their ideas as well as listening to those of the other participants, students become critical readers and thinkers regarding scientific literature, which are essential skills for engineers.


bionanotechnology: A combination of biology and nanotechnology.

cell lysis: The dissolution or destruction of cells.

nanomedicine: Medical application of nanotechnology largely used for drug delivery.

quantum dots: Semi-conductors with excitons that consist of a core, semiconductor shell, polymer coating and biomolecule.


Embedded Assessment: Assess students on the extent of participation and knowledge in the discussion.

Additional Multimedia Support

Less is More in Medicine Article


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Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Accessed June 21, 2010. http://www.dictionary.com


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2010 Vanderbilt University


Melinda M. Higgins; Amber Spolarich

Supporting Program

VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under National Science Foundation RET grant nos. 0338092 and 0742871. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: September 26, 2018

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