Space Camp Alum Uses Hubble to Captivate Students
Who are NASA's Earth and Space Science Explorers?
The middle school students who track weather to study its effect on bursting tree buds. And the scientist studying black holes in distant galaxies. But also the teacher whose class shares Earth science data with students around the world. And the engineer who designs robotic instruments to probe hard-to-reach planets. All of these people are Earth Explorers, Space Science Explorers or both. The Earth Explorers and Space Science Explorers series features NASA explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.
Carrie Murray has always loved science. Since high school, biology and chemistry have been "cool" subjects in her notebook. But Murray's devotion to science reached a new level after she attended Space Camp for educators at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
"Attending Space Camp ... had a life-altering effect on me personally and professionally," said the award-winning fifth-grade science and social studies teacher at Hopewell Elementary School in West Chester, Ohio. "I attended a week-long adventure where I learned how to incorporate space science into my classroom, and the experience transformed me as a teacher."
The camp, held annually and sponsored by Honeywell, hosts mathematics and science teachers from around the world for five days of intensive classroom training focused on space science and space exploration. Teachers take part in astronaut-style trainings and simulations, as well as activities designed to promote life-long learning in a classroom setting.
Murray's students now are reaping the rewards of her growing enthusiasm for incorporating space exploration into lesson plans.
"My classroom has been transformed -- models of Saturn V rockets, the space shuttle, rockets hanging from the ceiling, a bulletin board devoted to the impact the space program has on our daily lives," said Murray. "I find that if students are invested, interested and involved in the lesson, then they learn better and they want to learn more. Teaching skills in isolation or showing them how it works doesn't produce the same results."
Murray's passion for weaving space science into her lesson plans and engaging students in hands-on projects is producing substantial results indeed. In 2010, Murray was selected as a winner in the NASA-sponsored Top Stars contest. The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies conducted the contest in cooperation with the Space Telescope Science Institute to recognize educators documenting exemplary use of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in science, technology, engineering or mathematics education.
Murray earned Gold Star honors -- given to the top-10 "Top Stars" -- for her classroom project, "Hubble Space Telescope Inspired Research Wiki Pages." Her students selected a photo from the Hubble website, researched it and the telescope, and then created pages for their classroom's wiki website.
Murray helped students create their pages based on a mentor text, "The Important Book," by Margaret Brown. The author is best known for writing "Goodnight Moon" and "Runaway Bunny," and many educators use Brown’s book to teach elementary students the concept of "a main or important idea." "The Important Book" provided a model for students to explain the importance of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The project's impact was measured by using pre- and post-project surveys, which showed significant increases in the students' understanding of, and interest in, Hubble.
To broaden the project's impact beyond the classroom and reinforce the importance of science education, Murray's students asked family and friends to provide feedback on their wiki pages. Qualitative results from their informal questionnaire supported the findings of the surveys. A sampling of responses included comments such as: "I learned a lot," "really cool," "amazing," "very impressive" and "I never knew!"
As a science educator with a rocket-precision interest in achieving results, Murray says she was attracted to developing an activity using Hubble because the telescope has so significantly changed human understanding of the universe.
"I wanted to hook my students' interest in space science for the long term. I want my students to be aware of the possibilities that exist for them in the space program," Murray said. "I know that grabbing their attention and utilizing technology is an effective way to make a lasting impression."
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Karen Nozik, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies