Students were over the moon when National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) educators were on campus for a one-day Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) event. Among them was Elementary Education major, Alaina Mercado, who described the experience as creative and inspiring.
“I got to ride a rocket to the International Space Station—virtually, of course,” Mercado quips. “It really made science fun and gave students a true hands-on, simulation experience; I even got to move about the cabin, as well as conduct a spacewalk.”
The outreach program is a national educator professional development and STEM engagement organization designed to partner with NASA in support of STEM educators and their students across the country. Its primary mission is to help a broader group of educators access the best of NASA’s professional learning resources, which are integrated with culturally relevant STEM pedagogies. The goal, overall, is to inspire and motivate diverse student audiences to pursue STEM fields of study, careers and opportunities with NASA.
“NASA’s education and outreach programs are important to NASA’s mission, especially in STEM education for a few reasons,” explains NASA Ames Research Center Education Specialist, Sara Torres, Ph.D., one of the four NASA educators who led the event’s activities. “First, this is one of the ways that NASA not only informs the public of its programs and missions but engages the public through their educational competitions and hands-on activities that align with real-time work.”
Secondly, Torres adds, because NASA is aware of the demographic shift in the country, it has made a commitment to reach all students, including underserved and underrepresented population.
“NASA education specialists have the agency to connect NASA engineers and scientists to the public, allowing them to see the faces of NASA,” says NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center Education Specialist Monica Uribe, another event participant. “This opportunity not only creates spaces to learn about the important work NASA does but to connect with them in a way that students see themselves in the people who work at NASA and, most importantly, begin to see the possibilities that they, too, one day can work at a place like NASA.”
Associate Professor at the School of Education and Behavioral Sciences and Director of Teacher Education Programs, Dr. Katrina Roseler first established a Chaminade connection with NASA in 2016, but it wasn’t until a NASA summer workshop in 2018, when she met Dr. Torres, that opened the possibility of an on-campus visit.
“Since 2018, Chaminade students and I have participated in NASA Education activities, specifically online webinars, some of which have been facilitated by Dr. Torres and Dr. Monice Uribe (another event attendee and a NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center Education Specialist),” Roseler says. “In the spring of 2022, I reached out to Dr. Torres about an opportunity to collaborate virtually to support elementary education majors. Those conversations evolved into the face-to-face experience and subsequent activities that occurred during the three-day event in September.”
The day’s event at Chaminade featured various technology-based activities, an art project, as well as an engineering design challenge, which entailed using different materials to develop a Lunar Lander with a paper cup, note cards, channel sticks, rubber bands, adhesive tape and construction paper. Students were tasked to design and create a capsule that astronauts would be safe in when dropped from a height of 4 -5 feet.
“My Lander didn’t work so well,” Mercado laughs. “All the educators, though, were so very kind and encouraging.”
“We chose NASA activities that aligned well with the topics presented,” Torres says. “One was the moon. Students created their own rover out of recyclable materials. Their objective was to have the cardboard rover move using a rubber band, pencil, straw and Life Savers candy.”
NASA educators also covered the topic of Aeronautics. During the “Navigate Your Zone” module, students were able to use small ball robots, called Spheros, to simulate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs. In another activity, students used templates of the experimental plane X-59 to fold paper airplanes then use their own breath as the thrust to make the paper airplane fly.
“The X-59 is NASA’s experimental plane, which is designed to lower the sonic boom,” Torres says. “Succeeding in this will allow for commercial travel to only take half the time it currently takes.”
A secondary component of the event included a visit to Palolo Elementary School, where Chaminade students took what they learned from NASA educators and shared it with the students in grades three to five.
“We transferred our knowledge to the kids,” Mercado says. “So it was kind of going full circle.”
Torres notes that their experience with the Chaminade education students was a joy, adding every student was motivated and ready to engage in the activity.
“More importantly, students were working—not only to learn the activities—but they understood they would be leading the activities with elementary students the following day and took their learning seriously,” Torres says. “Every student engaged positively, asked questions to better be prepared and did a phenomenal job facilitating the activities the following day.”
Roseler believes that such hands-on learning activities—which model what teachers should be doing in classrooms—are always beneficial.
“I imagine that these activities will resonate with Chaminade Education students for years to come,” Roseler says. “I plan on using them as examples throughout the remainder of the semester as examples of active learning with real-world applications.”