Students at Sterling Elementary School listen as Brian Hawkins, an aerospace education specialist representing NASA's Ames Research Center, talks about flight during a visit to the school last fall.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
It’s called a SMART Board, and students at Sterling and Nikiski North Star elementary schools partners in the NASA Explorer Schools program can’t get enough of it.
“They love the technology side of things. They can’t get me to use the SMART Board enough,” said Teri Hoffman, a teacher at Sterling.
Sterling and Nikiski North Star are beginning their second year as Explorer Schools, a program in which NASA’s vast scientific and educational resources are made available to participating schools, and there is still plenty of excitement in hallways and classrooms as students look forward to finding out what their teachers will be incorporating into curriculums this year.
“It allows kids to do more interactive learning,” said Annie Kendall, a teacher at Nikiski North Star, on how she’s been able to use new technology in her classroom. “You can put what is on a computer screen up (on the SMART Board), and students can write on the screen. From there, those changes can be saved, ... and you can beam it up the next day.”
Of course, the technology the two schools have been able to purchase with the program’s grant money is just part of NASA’s goal: getting students excited about careers in science and math.
“There’s great support from the community and from parents. They like the fact that science and math are being stressed, and that we’re finding ways to get kids hooked,” Hoffman said.
In addition to technology and resources, professional development also is made available to teachers as part of the program.
The five-member team Hoffman and Carol Boehmler, who is taking the place of Allan Miller at Sterling, and Kendall, Terry Durrant and principal Lori Manion at Nikiski North Star began the program last year with the goal of integrating NASA resources into their own classrooms.
Hoffman and Kendall said that was a success. For example, students were able to take advantage of a distance learning network to interact with scientists and discuss projects that were going on in class and use EarthCam imagery while studying biomes in science class.
This year, the team’s goal is to help other teachers in their buildings find ways to use Explorer Schools recources in their classrooms.
Hoffman said students at Sterling will be seeing what they can learn from a virtual interactive environment this year. Students also will have a chance to do inquiry-based lessons.
“The goal is to have every teacher introduce one per month,” Hoffman said.
Kendall said inquiry-based learning involves students asking questions about the world around them, then finding the answers through experimentation and observation.
“Instead of being told information, they’re making observations, collecting data and coming to conclusions to support what they see,” Kendall said.
Kendall said the resources can be integrated into subjects other than math and science. She said she’s used the available satellite imagery in social studies classes.
“A lot of our staff has been seeing the interconnectedness between math and science and geography. I felt good about teaching a math concept in the middle of social studies. I think some of those concepts are emphasized through our NASA connection,” Kendall said. “It’s fun that students associate school with NASA.”
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