Foreign Language Teaching In U.S Institutions Of Higher Education Data NASA’s Explorer Schools

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NASA’s Explorer Schools

Usually when we think of NASA, we think of spaceships exploring new frontiers. And so they do, of course, but the nation’s space agency has its hand in more terrestrial pursuits, too—pursuits that can have a direct influence on the children in your life.

In the NASA Explorer School (NAS) initiative, established in 2003, the agency partners with participating schools across the nation to deliver a math, science and technology curriculum to students in grades K-12. When a partnership agreement is reached, teachers and a school administrator come together to develop and implement a three-year action plan that addresses local challenges in the previously mentioned subjects. Based on information generated from needs assessments, this personalized plan is delivered through a combination of on-site school services and distance learning networks.

Elements of the program include professional development workshops during the summer months in which teams of educators meet at the nine NASA Field Centers and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The one-week intensive training provides opportunities for teachers to begin integrating NASA content into existing school curricula, and extends to creating and implementing action plans to address local challenges.

Throughout the school year, research-based continuing professional development includes NASA aerospace education specialists, Space Grant consortia, educator resource centers, and NASA education networks.

That’s the somewhat boring explanation of what it’s all about. Real life examples are much more exciting.

Botball, anyone?

You’ve probably never played botball – given that it’s a game played only by robots. But, hey, robots have to have fun too, right? For the past three years, Explorer Schools students have accepted the challenge of building and programming robots to compete with opponents on a field the size of a ping-pong table. The challenge for 2006 was “Search and Rescue”. The robotics teams worked autonomously to locate a plush robot and its “tribble” friends. (Star Trek fans will understand tribbles. They are round, furry animals that reproduce faster than the junk in your Inbox.) The challenge was to complete various tasks and score points in front of opposing robots. (It’s kind of like Survivor, without the bikinis.)

Search and Rescue (and other botball challenges) gives middle and high school students a practical application of learning in science, technology, engineering and math. Competing teams built their robots from an official kit containing as many as 1,800 LEGO building blocks, two Xport Botball Controllers (XBCs, attached to Nintendo® Game Boy Advance devices), and 20 sensors, including cameras color recognition. After using the pieces to build their robots, the students programmed them using a version of the C computer language.

The annual botball challenges have generated so much enthusiasm that at least 13 regional tournaments are held across the United States. Hawaii is actively involved, with more than 20 participating schools. The 2007 national tournament will be held in Honolulu in July, and will be one of the events at the National Educational Robotics Conference.

The NASA website quoted Jade Bowman, the NES team leader at Hawaii’s Waimea Middle School, as saying, “The Botball program has been an avenue for our students to expand their horizons in many areas “. Bowman added that the botball program exposed students to new careers, taught them to use a variety of technologies, increased self-confidence, developed complex thinking and demonstrated the importance of teamwork .

Cassini scientists for a day

On January 23, 2006, a group of third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders became “scientists for a day” and chose where to point the cameras on the Cassini spacecraft as it continues its tour of space around Saturn. . These students from Shirley Avenue Elementary School in Reseda, California (part of the Explorer network), had 10 days to study three destination options and decide which opportunity would make the most scientific sense. After much debate, they decided to take an image of the planet’s rings.

The mission planners calculated the necessary maneuvers and sent the commands to the spacecraft. The students studied Saturn before the project, so they had an idea of ​​what the mission entailed.

The “Cassini Scientist for a Day” activity helped them understand how long it takes to collect scientific information, and how complicated it is to make decisions. The NASA website quotes the children’s teacher, Kathy Cooper, as saying, “I was surprised to hear a fourth grader say, ‘You need a good eye and you have to be patient, because science is not fast. – we did.” You don’t learn about the universe overnight; it takes time,” says Cooper. “The activity brought a higher level of thinking; they continued to come up with good questions.”

Build your own rocket ship

Michigan’s Southfield School was the first in the nation to be designated a NASA Exploration School. In early 2006, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, announced a $2,500 grant to students in Southfield, Michigan, to help them design, build and launch their own rocket. Part of NASA’s Student Launch Initiative, the project helps students learn more about engineering and teamwork through a hands-on approach to creating and launching rockets with payloads.

The Student Launch Initiative is run jointly by the Marshall Center in partnership with the Huntsville Area Rocketry Association, a group of rocket enthusiasts and engineers who launch their own rockets. Each participating student team designs, builds and tests their own rockets, while documenting their progress on a website. Students can request guidance from professional engineers during the design and testing phases. Teams also learn problem-solving skills, how to prepare and present proposals, and how to budget.

Teams display and launch their rockets in a competition. Competing rockets carry a tracking device and a recoverable science payload weighing between a quarter and a half pound. The gun must reach an altitude of one mile during the flight and be reusable. After the flight, the team collects data from the payload, analyzes it, and reports the results to the engineers of the Marshall Center, the mentors of the project, who evaluate each rocket and determine the winners. The winning teams receive a school trophy.

How to become a School Explorer

According to the website, competitive applications are accepted and selection of NASA Explorer School teams takes place each spring. Up to 50 teams will be added each year, for a maximum total of 150 teams.

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