How I Used NES In My Classroom: Meet Cris L. DeWolf
Cris DeWolf is a 27-year teaching veteran who teaches earth and space science, biology, and Astronomy I and II courses at Chippewa Hills High School in Remus, Mich. NASA Explorer Schools asked DeWolf about his experience with using NES resources in the classroom.
What elements of NES drew you toward participating in the project?
Materials from the NES Virtual Campus do a great job of showing students the diverse opportunities available in STEM-related careers, which was a major draw for me to become involved in the project. My current astronomy class … will be able to participate in this after Christmas break. These students have previously attended after-school teleconferences for NASA's Mars Exploration Student Data Teams, or MESDT, and Student Planetary Investigators programs. The students appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the "real world."
I am an active presenter at conferences in my state. Having the opportunity to get quality professional development on teaching modules that incorporate NASA materials provides me with materials to share with other teachers. I hope to get them involved in the NES project as well.
Which featured lessons did you use?
So far, I have used Electromagnetic Spectrum: Remote Sensing Ices on Mars; Meteorology: How Clouds Form; Weather and Climate: Satellite Meteorology; Temperature and Earth Climate: Modeling Hot and Cold Planets; and My NASA Data: Solar Cell Energy Availability From Around the Country.
How did you integrate NES resources into your established curriculum and use them to support your objectives?
This is the first year that I have taught our earth and space science course in a long time. I used this opportunity to examine ways I could improve our coverage of the content, especially taking into account a state science assessment taken by students their junior year. I specifically looked for ways in which I could incorporate NES and other NASA materials. I used Meteorology: How Clouds Form; Temperature and Earth Climate: Modeling Hot and Cold Planets; and Analyzing Solar Energy Graphs: My NASA Data in two of my units covering severe weather and climate change. I plan on developing a more complete problem-based inquiry lesson on remote sensing and climate change using the Weather and Climate: Satellite Meteorology module.
My astronomy class has been involved in the MESDT project for several years, which made the Electromagnetic Sensing: Remote Sensing Ices on Mars module a natural fit to that curriculum.
What was your overall experience with the NES featured lessons?
Overall, I found the lessons very useful. There are many more than last year, most of which can be used in classes other than my earth and space science course. I am planning on ways of incorporating some of the biology-related lessons and NASA Now videos into our biology program.
How did you use NASA Now Classroom videos in your curriculum?
I often used the NASA Now Classroom videos as the "hook" to capture student interest at the beginning of a unit of study and then moved into the material found in the lessons. I appreciated the NASA Now videos that are listed as additional resources in the lessons themselves, but I would often browse the complete collection to find videos connected to what was coming up in our curriculum. I am part of a book study in my building that is looking at "What’s the Big Idea?" by Jim Burke. Our discussion thus far has led me to thinking about how I use the pre-viewing questions that come with the NASA Now videos in a different way. I will start assigning them as journal writing the day before we watch the videos as homework. Then we will have a discussion the day I show the video, hopefully prompting a more critical look at the content.
Did you make any changes to the NES modules so that they would better fit into your classroom?
I do a version of the cloud formation activity with my students, looking at the effects of changes in pressure on temperature (adiabatic processes) and the effect of condensation nuclei (smoke particles). I shared this on the NEON (NASA Educators Online Network) forum.
I could not use the My NASA Data module as it was written because of the updates to their data server. So I created my own lesson where I had my students compare the average low January temperature in our area to that in Greenland. This required the use of spreadsheet software to create scatter plots and then look at the statistical significance of the trend line for the data by examining the R-squared values of each. Technology integration has always been an important component of our curriculum in the ninth grade, so this was an excellent way to get my students to practice their spreadsheet skills and look at global climate change.
Did NES provide you with all the needed elements to successfully use in the classroom?
Yes, for the most part. There are many lessons to choose from in the lesson library so no matter what a teacher's experience level anyone should be able to find something that they could easily use or adapt for their classrooms.
Were there any out-of-pocket costs?
When I try something to see if it is a good fit for our program, I often purchase the necessary materials myself. Then, if I add it as an item that all teachers should use when teaching the same class, I will ask for district support in purchasing additional materials. For the cloud formation lesson, I already had the supplies needed on hand. This is often the case with the lessons I use -- the supplies are those commonly available and/or inexpensive.
Did you experience any time constraints?
So long as I kept what I used from the NES materials as part of my curriculum, there were no time constraints. The preparation time required to use lessons varies -- but prep time is needed for any activity a science teacher chooses to use with the students. We have trimesters with 68-minute class periods, so that provides plenty of time for my students and me to get into meaningful discussions of topics brought up in NASA Now videos and during the activities.
What would you tell other teachers who aren’t sure about trying the modules?
I would suggest that they attend a live professional development seminar on the resource they are considering using. These sessions are great in that they allow you the opportunity to get immediate feedback on any questions you may have through the chat window. The opportunity to ask follow-up questions either on Facebook or NEON is an excellent way to gain insights from others who have used the lesson you are interested in as well.
What advice would you give other teachers who are considering joining NES but are concerned about time and funds?
Teachers should not be concerned about either of these things. Many lessons present activities that use commonly found classroom materials or items that require a minimal investment. And teachers are free to start slowly, trying out only a few lessons and/or NASA Now videos. The degree to which a teacher becomes involved is entirely up to the individual. I would have to add that as soon as a teacher does one of these lessons with their students, they are going to want to try more.
Let's talk about your students. How did they respond to the NES content?
Overall, my students were really into doing these activities.
Were the students more excited about STEM after using the content?
Excited? That is hard to say with freshmen. Interested? Definitely. So far this year, my students seem to be paying more attention to what I have to share with them and even will bring up in class discussions items they have heard about on the news, such as the launch of Curiosity and Comet Lovejoy surviving its plunge through the solar corona. I'd like to think that this extra interest is due to our use of NES materials.
Did you do anything specific with your students that you can recommend to other teachers?
I don't think that I really do anything special. I have a lot of interest in NASA, as I grew up during the early years of manned spaceflight. My passion for astronomy, and science in general, plus my involvement in many different programs help me maintain student interest and motivation.
I would recommend that teachers become involved in their profession beyond the classroom. I am a member of many professional organizations. Through contacts established within these organizations, I have been able to bring my students the benefits of extra training I received through many programs. Several small teams of my students have pursued their own research projects through my involvement.
I also recently completed a NASA Endeavor Fellowship and have STEM certification through Teachers College at Columbia University. Part of my experience with the Endeavor program involved a summer internship at Goddard Space Flight Center, also ultimately benefiting my students.
Did you use any other technology in implementing the lessons?
Other than using spreadsheets for data analysis in some modules, the only other technology I plan on using is an Alta II reflectance spectrometer when we do the Remote Sensing of Ices on Mars module later this year. This will allow my students to obtain their own data in a fashion similar to that used by NASA to study the Red Planet from orbit.
Did you engage anyone in the students/ families or community? If so, please explain how you did it and what the response was.
I always bring up my being a NES teacher at conference sessions where I am a presenter. The Michigan Earth Science Teachers Association hosts workshops called "Evenings of Earth Science." At our last board meeting, I asked if they would approve a series of workshops promoting NES. With their approval, I am now working on setting this up through our Intermediate School District starting after the new year.
Will you do more lessons in the future?
There are some really interesting biology modules this year, like the Ultraviolet Radiation and Yeast: Radiation Biology and Properties of Living Things: Searching for Signs of Life on Mars lessons. This year, I am the only teacher doing biology. The more I get prepped now, the more likely the lessons will be carried through next year by anyone else assigned to teach the class.
The possibility of my students actually interacting with a NASA scientist through the live chat sessions each month is another area I hope to get us involved in.
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