Feature

Taking Learning Outside of the Classroom
10.24.07
Heavy books, dusty blackboards and long lectures are unavoidable components of a formal education. Two members of the NASA team are advocating there's more to learning. They are thinking outside the box -- the traditional classroom box -- and offering a world of opportunities and experiences, exemplifying the concept, "Only so much can be learned from books."

Rachel Manzer and Susan Moore sit behind a table with a world map on it

Susan Moore, on the right, is preparing a Digital Learning Network presentation about MY NASA DATA to deliver to three NASA Explorer Schools. Seated on the left is Rachel Manzer, a curriculum specialist for the DLN team. The DLN strives to connect educators and students with NASA centers through interactive videoconferencing.
Image Credit: NASA

Susan Moore, a former teacher and current NASA educational specialist, and Luther Jenkins, her former student who is now an aerospace research engineer at NASA Langley Research Center, extended their interests and hobbies into successful careers by supplementing their formal education with hands-on learning experiences. Both are now offering experiential learning opportunities to today's young people.

Moore began her career as a math teacher at Huntington Middle School in Newport News, Va. She continued on to the high school level, and also began volunteering as an outreach curriculum writer at NASA Langley. Although Moore was already a successful educator, she recognized the value of seeking out local resources to grow as a professional. "You don't even realize what is in your own backyard," she explained.

Moore made a point to pass along to her students the resources that she was given. She routinely supplemented her classes with speakers, workshops, and fun activities. Moore taught her lessons according to standard guidelines, but would also add a more hands-on component. "I was the only teacher who had a bowling ball hanging in my classroom," which, she explained, was for illustrating the effects of a pendulum.

Although Moore has now retired from teaching, she continues to work with NASA on activities that place heavy emphasis on experiential learning. She supports MY NASA DATA, which helps students and teachers use real NASA data in their learning, and the Student's Cloud Observations On-line, or S'COOL, project, which encourages student participation by submitting individual cloud observations.

Over the years, Moore has touched the hearts and minds of many students, but one in particular, Luther Jenkins, shares her same values for learning. "She was so enthusiastic, and she had a good balance between instruction and application," explains Jenkins, as he looks back on Moore's physics class. "She really increased my enthusiasm for engineering." After benefiting first-hand from experiential learning, Jenkins has adopted Moore's philosophy and methodology, and is now inspiring a new generation of students.

Luther Jenkins stands next to a model of an airplane

Luther Jenkins is an aerospace research engineer at NASA Langley Research Center. He is shown here in the 14 by 22 foot Subsonic Tunnel examining a model before tests begin. Image Credit: Denise M. Stefula

Jenkins has had a passion for airplanes since he was young. He got it honestly -- his father was an air traffic controller. After touring NASA Langley as a child, his interest sparked into a potential career opportunity. By eighth grade, Jenkins' science projects consisted of building small wind tunnels. After high school, he was selected for the Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars, or LARSS, program and interned at the Center. By the time he was ready for graduate school, his academic record -- joined with his experiences -- landed him a position working at the NASA Langley wind tunnels.

Jenkins is passionate about sharing his enthusiasm for engineering and NASA research with young people. He has served as a mentor for the Langley Summer High School Apprenticeship Program, or SHARP, for LARSS and for the Jefferson Scholar Program. He gives countless tours through the wind tunnel and contributes to informational videos for students and teachers.

"I think students who are trying to decide what to do in life need to see what opportunities are available to them. They may just need one small trigger that inspires them to make a career decision," Jenkins explains. "Equations are helpful for predictions, but actually applying them to something hands-on really completes the circle of learning."

Moore and Jenkins are excellent examples of their premise -- the best complement to a good formal education is hands-on experience. Both are committed to excellence in education and expanding career choices for today's youth.

Jennifer Collings/LaRC