NASA Transforming the Way Students Learn About Technology
Optimus Prime once said, "There's a thin line between being a hero and being a memory." Four fifth-graders from Union Park Elementary School recently became more than just a memory . . . to their classmates they are heroes for winning an award inspired by the leader of the Autobots in the popular "Transformers" movies.
"Excelling in science, technology, engineering and math allows you to use your imagination and to go beyond what you see Optimus Prime doing," said Nona Cheeks, chief of the Technology Commercialization Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., during an award ceremony at the school May 25.
Cheeks and other NASA representatives were there to honor Isaliz, Juliana, Samantha and Grace with 10-pound glass trophies for the short, creative video they produced for the 2010 NASA Optimus Prime Spinoff Competition. The goal of the video competition, sponsored by the Innovative Partnerships Program at Goddard and the action figure maker Hasbro, was to help students understand how NASA “transforms” technologies to benefit humankind on a daily basis.
"We wanted to give you kids a chance to express your creativity," said Darryl Mitchell, a Goddard engineer. "It's a very exciting time, our understanding of our universe and technology is evolving, and some of you may be the first to walk on Mars."
Kimberley Klein, the students' science lab teacher, said highlighting clothing that helps protect skin against exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays was an easy pick because of all the time Floridians spend baking in the hot sun. She said that winning the award was quite a shock because the competition seemed pretty fierce.
"We did our best and we hoped for the best," Klein said. "It was a huge surprise because we looked at the other videos and they were very high-tech, they used computer programs, green screens . . . and we had us."
The teamwork attitude portrayed in their "Fabrics Protect Sensitive Skin from UV Rays" video is what won over the public after it was posted on YouTube. Nearly 70 videos were submitted by more than 170 students from 30 states in two age groups -- third through fifth grade and sixth through eighth grade. A panel of NASA judges reviewed and selected the winners from the top five videos in each age group.
"All our hard work has definitely paid off," Grace said after hearing that she and her teammates will be receiving four complementary passes each to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
"I'm very impressed by your group and your video . . . not only did you grasp the concept and explain it, but you also made it entertaining and that's important," said Dr. Lesley Fletcher, deputy division chief of Education at Kennedy. "Our hope is that you'll go into science, technology, engineering or math and you'll create things that make the world better for everyone."
"Dahlia" Senthilnathan, an eighth-grader from Roberto Clemente Middle School, took home first place in the older age group. Her video was about how a star-mapping algorithm used on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is helping scientists track endangered animals.
At the end of Union Park award ceremony, Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime, got the attention of a couple hundred fourth- and fifth-graders by saying "Many challenges lie ahead . . . if we work together, we can face them, and we can beat them."
NASA plans to have the contest again this year, expanding the pool of contestants to ninth- through 12th-graders.
When Klein asked the students, "The next time I ask for volunteers to do this video, I'll get a lot more, right fourth-graders?" they all yelled "yes" in unison.
To view the "Fabrics Protect Sensitive Skin from UV Rays" video, go to http://youtu.be/NonG-xnjtv4. To view the "How the NASA Star Mapping Technology Help Save Him" video, go to http://youtu.be/YiWwIj7ii3w.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center