Sterling Elementary students interact live with students in Florida, Idaho, and California during NASA teleconference.
Sterling Elementary School has always been an exciting place to go to school, but ever since the school was selected to be a NASA Explorer School, that excitement level has been raised to a new level. Launched in 2003, the NASA Explorer School program establishes a three-year partnership between NASA and school teams consisting of teachers, students and administrators from diverse communities across the country. Last week Sterling Elementary students from 1st through 6th grade joined students from Florida, Idaho and California in participating in a live video conference with celebrity guest Chris Van Allsburg and a NASA scientist. Van Allsburg is an award winning science fiction author of Polar Express fame and author of a new book “Zathura” which has just been released as a major motion picture. “Allsburg’s new book uses the imagination as the basic theme which is what we feel is necessary at NASA in order to carry out the science that we do,” commented Marny Skora, of the NASA Langley Research Center.
The video conference was made possible through NASA’s digital learning network, a series of video conferences that allows NASA researchers to come right into classrooms across the nation, “We do this because we feel it is highly important that students don’t opt out of subjects such as math, science, and technology because we are looking forward to a vibrant NASA workforce for tomorrow,” said Skora.
According to Allan Miller, Sterling Elementary 6th grade teacher, the video conference was the culmination of in-depth studies to stimulate students imagination and language arts, “We’ve been reading Allsburg’s books, discussing them, doing writing assignments and the follow up was being able to talk with the author himself, read some of what the students had written, and get live comments back from this award winning science fiction author,” said Miller. “Reading the book and when I go to the movie, it makes me think like I’m actually in space,” said Maija Stoner, one of Ms. Stoner’s second grade students. Naomi McMullen, a sixth grade student in Mr. Miller’s class was able to ask Van Allsburg a question while students in Florida and California all watched, “What inspired you to write the book Zathura twenty-one years after you wrote Jumanji?” Allsburg’s response got students looking to their own pets as inspiration for story subjects. “It was really helpful hearing kids in Florida and California ask questions and learning what their thoughts were and knowing that we were all part of the NASA program and that we were talking with a famous author,” added sixth-grader Wendell Larson. “Learning more about the personality and thoughts of the author Van Allsburg was my favorite part of the video conference. It has inspired me to read more and if he writes another book, I’ll want to buy it very quickly. Getting excited about science fiction has inspired me to learn more about text-book science,” said sixth-grader Bud Sparks. Zathura is scheduled to open in theatres during the 2005 holiday season. Only published three years ago, Zathura was the first book Van Allsburg had written and illustrated in seven years and has sold over 9 million copies worldwide, according to a press release.
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