Lacey Moore puts her robot through its paces at Sterling Elementary, a NASA Explorer school.
While many kids were counting the final days and hours of the school year, students at Sterling Elementary were having regrets about school getting out for the summer. “I really don’t want to leave because it’s been so exciting being in Mr. Miller’s class and participating in the NASA Explorer curriculum and using the hand held’s,” commented Karlie Self shortly after she had read a science fiction story she had written to NASA scientists in Cleveland ,Ohio live over visual satellite transmission.
Nikiski Northstar and Sterling teamed up with NASA this past year to become NASA Explorer Schools, with a primary goal of placing technology into students' and teachers' hands to reinforce the excitement of science into the curriculum. Mr. Miller is the team leader for the project, and his class just wrapped up a yearlong project called Science Through Arts (STAR). “What do you get when you mix handheld computers, robots, scuba, science fiction, salmon biology, 6th graders, and a host of NASA Scientists and specialists,” asked Miller. “Throw in some great local support from
Alaska Fish and Game, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, Tesoro, Toyota, and the Sterling PTA - and the result would be my classroom at Sterling Elementary,” said Miller.
On May 18, the class linked by videoconference with NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, a class of freshmen authors at Cleveland Heights High School, and researchers from the Center for Highly Interactive Computing at University of Michigan to share science fiction stories, animations, and drawings that had been entirely created on handheld computers. Throughout the year the class has been participating in a wide variety of experiences linked to STAR in order to provide the students with the science background and space knowledge necessary to write believable science fiction.
The class participated in a day of scuba diving at the Kenai pool, constructing an "airlock" from PVC pipe to simulate how the astronauts prepare for missions in Houston. They spent a day at the Challenger Center completing a Mission to Mars, gaining the experience of how astronauts and mission control create powerful teams to successfully complete their objectives. They've been able to program digital cameras on the International Space Station and shoot over 200 photos of our home planet, and teamed with a school in Indiana to solve a simulated battery problem during the Houston We Have a Problem simulation. They've tracked the migrations of seven varieties of birds using GPS tracking collar data and mapping info downloaded from NASA satellites in a program called Signals of Spring.
NASA and videoconferencing technology also allowed the class to "meet" a wide variety of scientists and specialists - all of whom provided the class with ideas, support and inspiration. They met NASA rocket scientists Homer Hickham (author of October Sky) and Joe Kolecki, who each offered their advice for pursuing dreams, reaching for the stars, and becoming a scientist. Science fiction author Mary Truzillo teamed up with the class to write a new piece of science fiction - all conducted virtually over the internet.
The NASA Explorer School program is a three year commitment from NASA to support these two schools - so hopefully opportunities such as these will continue to find their way to the Kenai Peninsula. As for Allan Miller, he recently was named as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, one of twelve educators selected nationwide to spend a year in Washington, D.C. working with the National Science Foundation to look at ways to have their research grants incorporate ideas to support teachers and students at the elementary and high school level. The district has granted Miller a one year sabbatical as well as the opportunity to return to Sterling Elementary to pick up where he left off.
Ms. Boehmier's 4th & 5th grade students dress in the ethnic apparel of their ancestors at during immigration history day at Sterling Elementary.
The end of the school year was also an exciting time for Carol Boehmler’s 4th and 5th grade classes at Sterling as they traced their immigrant heritage and then came to school dressed as their ancestors may have, “We’ve been studying our country, how it was founded, and our immigrant history. So all the students found out where their ancestry came from, and then with things they had at home create a costume that would reflect their heritage and look as authentic as possible,” explained Boehmler.
Meanwhile, to prepare for their field trip, Ms. Hoffman’s 6th grade class was excitedly participating in their annual community clean up, “Our special field trip to the Marine Science Center at Otter Cove is made possible by generous contributions every year from Chevron, Wells Fargo, Kenai River Sportfishing Assoc. and others, so in return the kids like to give something back to the community, so we go out and clean up a portion of the roads in the community,” said Hoffman.
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