Sterling, Nikiski team up in effort to work with NASA

Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Sterling Elementary and Nikiski Middle-Senior High schools are teaming up in an effort to be selected to participate in a unique partnership with NASA.

The schools are preparing to apply jointly to be designated a NASA Explorer School and be subject to professional development, curriculum and funding assistance from the space agency.

"NASA puts so much energy into education," said Sterling Elementary School teacher Allan Miller. "They do projects all the time. The problem is, as a teacher, when you find time for them."

That's why NASA has decided to start by selecting 50 schools to focus on for the next three years.

NASA is targeting students in grades four through nine, which is why the two Kenai Peninsula schools though miles apart are working together. Sterling Elementary serves students in kindergarten through sixth grade, while Nikiski Middle-Senior High serves seventh- through 12th-graders.

NASA will provide ongoing professional development for teachers and administrators at the selected schools, stipends and travel expenses for teachers to attend summer workshops and unique classroom materials and resources for students. The agency also will provide $10,000 grants for participating schools to implement new programs through NASA.

Miller already has started integrating NASA materials and ideas into his sixth-grade classes. He currently is a finalist for a position as an educator-astronaut with the agency and has used his opportunity to bring resources to his students.

For example, he is using a set of Palm hand-held computers in his class to integrate technology with everyday lessons for his sixth-graders. The Palms are owned by the district, but Miller said the idea to use them for students and many of the lessons he's using in class came from a professional development conference he attended with Explorer School organizers.

"It's amazing how many re-sources NASA has for education," Miller said. "And we can get our hands on them, literally, for free."

Sterling and Nikiski educators are finalizing an application for the Explorer School program to be submitted by Jan. 30. If selected, the schools will receive benefits from NASA for at least the next three years.

Miller said he hopes it won't stop there.

He said participating educators are teaming up with the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska to provide distance-delivery education for other teachers and administrators in the district.

"We'll take what we learn through NASA and provide district education to train teachers in all of our district," he said.

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