How I Used NES In My Classroom: Meet Teacher Donna Rand
Donna Rand is a 30-year teaching veteran who teaches science for grades K-5 at East Hartford-Glastonbury Magnet School in East Hartford, Conn. Donna was drawn to the NASA Explorer Schools project because she found the NES materials generated excitement for inquiry, science exploration, teamwork and real-life science challenges where students applied science concepts to solve real problems.
Donna focused on areas of the NES featured lessons that aligned with the Connecticut State Science Standards. For her students, this approach really "brought to life" the science concepts in physical, biological, and Earth and space science.
Through NES projects, Donna sees her students working as real scientists as they apply scientific thinking, concepts and teamwork to some very interesting current NASA challenges.
NES asked Donna about her experience with using NES in her classroom. She had some insightful comments to share.
Which featured lessons did you use?
In our K-5 science programs, we used the Engineering Design Process: On the Moon Educator Guide: On Target and Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber featured lessons. We also used the NASA Now Classroom Videos and participated in the NES chats held with NASA scientists.
In designing a plant growth chamber to grow food for astronauts in space, our young students explored basic principles of engineering, material science, plant life needs and nutrition with enthusiasm and interest as they worked together to solve this very real problem of keeping humans alive during long space flights. After thinking about growing food in space, "Eat your vegetables!" was not just something students heard their parents tell them. Application of basic nutrition was brought to reality for students when one second-grade girl explained, "Astronauts could not survive on chips and dessert for all those years; they need to have fresh food to keep them alive and healthy!"
Students soon realized that their plant growth chambers had to be made from waterproof materials, and they learned firsthand which materials met this requirement. After watching the NASA International Space Station videos, the students also realized they had to engineer their chambers to keep plants, water and substrate from floating around the spacecraft.
Students displayed their plant growth chambers in our annual schoolwide Invention Convention. Several students were selected to present their inventions for growing food in space at the annual statewide Connecticut Invention Convention.
Did you use any extensions with the featured lessons?
In addition to the featured lessons, we used Micro-g Kids; Moon Munchies; Robotics; Mars Rover: Entry, Descent, and Landing, "Six Minutes of Terror"; National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, water and weather data; Earth Observatory for their images of Earth from space; Digital Learning Network sessions; Robotics; and Robonaut. We also watched the live space shuttle launches, (viewed) Living in Space episodes, and incorporated other NASA website STEM projects.
Did you use the featured lesson as a jumping off point to other NES content?
The NES featured lessons lead students and teachers through a natural exploration of other NASA resources in order to answer their own questions or research content found on the NASA website. They learned that the NASA site is an excellent resource for state-of-the art science ideas, research and accurate science information. Students and teachers also found NASA resources that allowed them to chat directly and indirectly with NASA scientists working in fields of the students' interest.
Did NES provide you with all of the needed elements to successfully use the content in the classroom?
Yes, NES provided the elements needed ... I was able to find further resources such as videos for teachers on the NES website. I found the NASA Educators Online Network, or NEON, website helpful to exchange ideas with other teachers and NASA educators. I also used the professional development videos for teachers before starting the lessons.
There were no difficulties in using the content; I chose sections of the featured lessons that met my students' needs. I adapted some components of the lessons to meet the needs of my young students.
What would you tell other teachers who aren’t sure about trying the NES materials?
I encourage teachers to use the featured lessons to get students actively involved in working as scientists on real problems. Use the lessons as a guide and choose activities that reinforce your state science standards and reflect the interest of you and your students.
I would also suggest attending an online orientation and selecting a featured lesson that could help reinforce state standards and truly capture the interest of the teacher and students. Remember the lessons and activities are designed to stimulate thinking, (to encourage) questions, and (to show) there are many ways to solve a problem.
Speaking of the students, how did they respond to the content?
After exploring a variety of resources on the NASA website, students exclaimed, "I didn't know there were so many different ways to be a scientist!" or "I didn't know NASA invents so many cool things!"
After watching the NASA video narrated by engineers working on the Mars rover mission, "Six Minutes of Terror!" a group of fourth graders worked together in small engineering teams to build and test their own landing systems carrying a delicate glass holiday ornament. "When we worked together as a team, our parachute (design) started to improve!" a fourth-grader commented after her group designed and dropped their Mars lander from the ceiling of the gym slowly and landed it safely on the floor.
Were the students more excited about STEM after the content?
The integration and application of skills students used during the Lunar Plant Growth featured lessons allowed them to use higher-level thinking skills, make connections, and apply enriched vocabulary when communicating their ideas.
Students definitely see themselves as scientists, inventors and engineers.
Did you do anything else that you can recommend to other teachers?
When using the NES lessons, I address my students as scientists and engineers. We encourage students to work together in groups of two to four students and use examples of people working on teams to develop new ideas for NASA. Often people who think and look at things differently come up with new and novel approaches to problems.
Did you use any other technology in implementing the featured lessons?
I used the website resources such as videos, photos, high-definition movies, live mission footage, educational videos, live webchats, online professional development, smartboard, document camera, digital camera, and video camera. I also became involved in sharing ideas on the NEON and NES websites.
The calendar of events was VERY useful, and I regularly refer to the calendar to see what events will be useful for our students and teachers.
Did you engage anyone in the students' families or from the community?
My students were selected to participate in the NASA Kids in Micro-g
project, and they designed an experiment to test Newton's Laws of Motion that was performed on board the International Space Station by astronaut Tracy Caldwell-Dyson. As a result of this experience, my young students enthusiastically presented their experiment "Jelly Beans in Space!" at our annual Family Science Night and also at the statewide Space Expo held at the New England Air and Space Museum. Through actual video footage and "hands-on" Earth-based experiments, our students relayed an excitement for learning, science and NASA missions to hundreds of families and media venues throughout New England.
During our Family Science Night, we used activities found in the Moon Educators Guide to help educate families about NASA missions and problem-solving strategies.
During after-school and in-school enrichment programs, our students designed simple robots to solve household chores using commercial building sets, recycled materials, small security cameras, and NASA resources such as videos of the Mars Rover, Robonaut and interviews with engineers. Students learned to build robots and operate cameras remotely. Students were engaged in learning basic mechanical and electrical engineering as well as simple computer programming.
Will you do more featured lessons this next year?
Yes! I attended a NES summer workshop at Goldstone-Apple Valley Radio Telescope, or GAVRT, this summer, and I am excited about the opportunity my students will have to control a large radio telescope in California from our school in Connecticut! This will be a fantastic way to get my students excited about learning how scientists find out about other planets, black holes and the mysteries of the universe! They should also develop an understanding of the wavelengths of energy beyond the visible light spectrum and how people can collect and analyze energy waves collected from deep space!
Please visit the About NASA Explorer Schools
section to learn more about the benefits of registration.
› NASA Explorer Schools 2011 Teacher Selections
› NES Chats
› Sample NASA Now Video
› Moon Munchies
› Kids in Micro-g
› National Robotics Initiative
› Mars Rover EDL →
› Six Minutes of Terror →
› NOAA →
› Earth Observatory →
› Digital Learning Network
› Robonaut →