Feature

Paying It Forward
03.24.09
Student teachers from California State University-Fresno are "paying it forward" by passing on lessons learned at NASA's Pre-Service Teacher Institute to other current and future teachers at the university.

A woman using an air pump to launch a 2-liter bottle rocket

One of the principles taught at Fresno State's Teaching Fellows Summer Academy was propulsion, which was demonstrated using air-powered rockets. Image Credit: California State University-Fresno

The lessons are being shared at Fresno State's Teaching Fellows Summer Academy, a summer outreach component of the university's Teaching Fellows program.

Steve Price, director of the Teaching Fellows program, said the summer academy is an opportunity to make available the training received from NASA to a larger group of teachers -- and ultimately to a larger group of students.

In 2008, Fresno State sent 24 students to the Pre-Service Teacher Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center in northern California. At the summer academy, a team of those students shared what they learned with 90 other current and future teachers. Price estimated that the 90 summer academy participants could potentially impact more than 800 students.

The summer academy specifically focused on university students working with after-school programs. Price described the hands-on mathematics and science approach taught at NASA's annual pre-service teacher institutes as a perfect fit for after-school programs. "We see the after-school program as an opportunity to be a lot more innovative," Price said. "You have a lot more space and room to do things."

NASA's annual pre-service teacher institutes invite pre-service elementary or middle school teachers to NASA centers across the country for a summer workshop. The project engages teachers in hands-on activities designed to increase their skills in teaching mathematics and science while incorporating technology into the curriculum. Participants are shown how to incorporate NASA missions and research into lesson plans. They interact with NASA personnel and tour NASA facilities, and develop and teach a problem-based lesson to children from local schools. The project supports NASA's goal of strengthening the agency's and the nation's future workforce.

A line of teachers ready to fly small glider airplanes

Summer Academy participants learned to engage students in the principles of flight by using gliders. Image Credit: California State University-Fresno

Students from Fresno State's Teaching Fellows program have participated in PSTI at the Ames center since 2004. The Teaching Fellows program seeks to improve the quality and diversity of students entering careers in education by providing underrepresented students who are committed to careers in education an enriched education experience as they work towards degrees and credentials in education.

Teaching Fellow Donato "Willie" Mireles participated two summers in the Pre-Service Teacher Institute at Ames and helped lead last year's Teaching Fellows Summer Academy. He also attended two years at NASA's Pre-Service Teacher Conference, which brings together future teachers and education experts from across the nation for a few days of hands-on workshops.

Mireles is currently teaching seventh-grade mathematics at a Fresno-area middle school. He credited the hands-on NASA activities with helping excite students about math.

"When you include hands-on activities there's actually something to do," said Mireles, who has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Fresno State. "They're not just sitting down doing problems. When the student thinks they are having fun, they're actually getting some content."

Mireles observed the same excitement in the 90 after-school teachers who attended the Teaching Fellows Summer Academy in 2008. At first, Mireles said, the teachers were skeptical about using activities involving rockets, principles of flight, and mechanical and electrical engineering in their after-school programs. But after realizing how fun it was and the challenge it would give their students, "they were engaged and ready to get back to their schools," Mireles said.

Some of the lessons and activities from PSTI that are taught at the five-day summer academies are propulsion using antacid-powered and water-powered rockets; principles of flight using kites and gliders; engineering by building bridges and egg drop containers; and electrical engineering involving small electric cars, hovercraft and basic circuits.

Willie Mireles placing barbell weights on a craft-stick bridge

Fresno State graduate Willie Mireles leads an activity about engineering where students build and test a small bridge. Image Credit: California State University-Fresno

Mireles said after-school programs are great for these kinds of lessons because there is more freedom and flexibility for activities like launching rockets and flying model aircraft. His colleagues who are using the activities with after-school students report positive results. One of his co-worker's used an activity where students were challenged to design model cars and determine the optimal location for the motor. After that activity, Mireles said, enrollment in the after-school program increased because students heard about the model car project and wanted to be involved.

"The feedback has always been positive, and the students are just enjoying it," Mireles said.

The Summer Academy is the result of a partnership between the university and the Fresno County Office of Education. Price said the goal is to introduce teachers and students to investigation through problem-solving. The NASA materials help students "do something substantial by being problem-solvers and working in teams."

"That's a great approach in the after-school program, and using the training that we got from Ames was a real plus," Price said. "They're really learning it for life when they do it with a problem-solving method. They're getting the type of learning that stays with them when they participate in these hands-on activities."

While visiting local schools, Price has observed many of the activities taking place. He estimated that more than 50 percent of Summer Academy students are putting the training to use in their programs.

"When we walk around our schools, we see a lot more science and math going on in our after-school programs than we would otherwise," Price observed.


Related Resources
NASA Pre-Service Teacher Project Description
NASA Ames Research Center
NASA Education Web Site
Inspiring the Next Generation of Teachers
Laying the Foundation


Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services