In 2003, NASA rolled out an innovative project called NASA Explorer Schools. A unique new project, NASA Explorer Schools teamed schools, teachers and students with NASA resources and personnel in a refreshing new way, giving teachers and students access to the goings on of NASA as never before. Over the years, the NES project grew as more schools, teachers and communities became committed to the goals put forth by NES. And now, 10 years after its beginning, NES can boast that it has impacted hundreds of schools and teachers, along with hundreds of thousands of students.
To help celebrate its 10-year anniversary, NES teachers were asked about the impact that participating in the NES project has had on their teaching and their students. Some of the teachers who responded were educators who have been a part of the NES project from the very beginning, while others are newer participants. Whether project veterans or newer participants, all of the responders were excited about what NASA Explorer Schools has to offer.
Chick Knitter, a sixth-grade mathematics and science teacher at Hobgood Elementary School in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was one of the first educators who joined NES in 2003. Through the years as a NASA Explorer Schools teacher, Knitter has witnessed many benefits to the school through its partnering with NASA. Not only has he seen an overall increase of student interest in STEM areas, but also an increase in parental participation, along with new relationships with community partners. The students at Hobgood have had countless opportunities to interact with NASA over the years, including participating in the NES Student Symposiums and the microgravity challenges, all of which have helped raise student achievement levels. Knitter himself also has been awarded opportunities to participate in national conferences and professional development experiences. He writes of his experience with NES, "… the partnership with the NES project has impacted Hobgood Elementary's community in so many ways. The project has helped define Hobgood and supported the school’s mission of increasing students' knowledge in the STEM areas."
Another NES veteran is Sue Jukosky from Indian River School in Canaan, N.H., a NES participant since 2004. Jukosky, a fifth-grade teacher, has witnessed the positive impact NES has had on her school and students. She’s taken advantage of many professional development opportunities NES has provided over the years she's been a participant. Through grant money awarded to schools in the early years of the NES project, Jukosky's school was able to purchase LED projectors, which over the years has led to the school’s being able to hire a full-time technology director, plus having a projector and/or smart board in every classroom. The school also was able to purchase videoconferencing equipment, which they have used to participate in NASA's Digital Learning Network offerings. The teachers at Indian River School have been part of many previously held NES professional development opportunities, including the Reduced Gravity Flight Opportunity, Winter's Story at Yellowstone National Park and training at NASA centers during the summer.
Jukosky herself feels that being a NASA Explorer Schools teacher has had a life-changing impact on her career. Of her cumulative experience she writes, "Thanks to NASA I have gained huge amounts of knowledge and experience; become a leader of teachers; recruited team members; presented and shared experiences, resources and lessons at conferences and regional Space Grant meetings; collaborated with corporations; connected and collaborated with educators, scientists and engineers all over the country; and helped inspire and put programs and curriculum in place in our schools to benefit all students." She has gone on to become a partner teacher at Dartmouth College's GK-12 project and now works with graduate students to develop creative programs to bring the world of science to her students.
As for the students, a number of them have gone on to pursue STEM careers since being a part of the NES project. One of the students who traveled to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, as a part of the NES project has recently graduated college with a major in geology and is now working toward his master's degree. Interestingly, this student is attending the same university that the astronaut who spoke to their group had graduated from years earlier.
But it's not just the students and Jakosky who were impacted by NES; she states that she still hears from parents who participated in community outreach events that happened with NES over the years. She writes, "I still have parents from the 2004-2007 years who comment about how exciting and wonderful the NES opportunities were for their children and themselves, including getting to have a real-live astronaut and NASA engineers visit our classrooms, NASA educators doing activities with our students, moon rocks, and much more."
Denise Henggeler, a 2007 NES teacher at Northeast Nodaway R-V in Ravenwood, Mo., wrote that her first group of students who participated in NES has just graduated. Of the students, many of them are going to four-year colleges and majoring in STEM careers. She writes that being a part of NES opened many doors for the students from their school and that things continue to look bright for her small Midwestern school. She writes, "NES made it 'cool to be a science geek.' We are excited to see what our students accomplish next! Thank you NES!"
These three teachers are not the only ones to share their excitement on the positive impacts of using the NES project in their schools and classroom. Barbara Gosney, a STEM K-6 specialist at Fireside Elementary in Phoenix, Ariz., writes, "The most significant impact that NES has had on my students and school is building passion for STEM-related careers and fervor for STEM knowledge. The students view science, technology, engineering and mathematics not just as subjects in a classroom, but they see it in THEIR world -- all around them."
Gosney's experience is not unique. Teacher Barbara Dire of Forest Heights Elementary in Columbia, S.C., wrote of one particular student, "A student from our first NASA Student Symposium team was not interested in science at all when he came to Forest Heights. Through the use of NASA materials in the science lab, he became a star student, earning his place on that symposium team. This student, now a senior in high school, has a job in our after-school program and comes by to visit the science lab regularly. He reports that he will be attending college in the fall and majoring in science. The NASA materials and teacher training were an important factor in changing his opinion of science and shaping his future path."
Educator Kaci Heins of Northland Preparatory Academy in Arizona has seen a broader impact on her students: "Every aspect of NASA Explorer Schools allows my students to see how science, technology, engineering and mathematics … are used in the real world at NASA. Providing meaningful learning experiences at the middle school level is the perfect time to motivate students to pursue careers in science and engineering." One of her middle school students who was chosen to present at one of the annual the NASA Explorer Schools Student Symposiums went on to win the STEM student of the year award for the city of Flagstaff for her work with the NES project.
Ten-year NES teacher Rebecca Currier summed up her experience, "As a teacher, the greatest joy is being able to inspire young people with a dream. Being part of the NASA Explorer Schools project has provided me with the technology, knowledge and experience to do just that. I can’t begin to express the gratitude that I have for all NES has done to make me a better educator. Over the last 10 years I have been transformed from a small-town teacher to a teacher who has experienced Goddard Space Flight Center, Langley Research Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Kennedy Space Center, Glenn Research Center and winter in Yellowstone National Park."
New NES teacher April Leachman of East Paulding Middle School in Dallas, Ga., has this to say: "I am relatively new to the NES family but your program has changed the way I teach. I have used NASA resources for years but the NES website has made using NASA resources easier. … The NES program has given me valuable professional and personal opportunities as well. … My collaboration with NASA has been a dream come true. Thank you so much. I eagerly await the next adventure. Happy Anniversary, NES!"
It’s not too late for you to get involved with NASA Explorer Schools! Visit the website and learn more about the project, then sign up to become a NASA Explorer Schools teacher.
On the Web:
Heather S. Deiss/NASA Educational Technology Services