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How I Used NES In My Classroom: Meet Joan Labay-Marquez
February 10, 2012

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Name: Joan Labay-Marquez
2010-2011 School: Curlington Elementary
Grade: K-6
Subject: Gifted and Talented Pullout Program
Teaching Experience: 5 Years
Featured Lessons Used:
-- Properties of Living Things: Fingerprints of Life
-- Distance/Rate/Time Problems: Smart Skies™
-- NASA Now Classroom Videos

Joan Labay-Marquez is a five-year teaching veteran who teaches grades K-6 in the Gifted and Talented Pullout Program at Curlington Elementary in Boerne, Texas. The Gifted and Talented Pullout Program focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

Labay-Marquez was drawn to the NASA Explorer Schools, or NES, project for a number of reasons. She felt the content gave her a varied curriculum to meet the individual needs of her students, and she liked the availability of NASA professionals and scientists to introduce career opportunities to her students. The technology and opportunities for inquiry-based learning allowed her to adapt her instruction for all types of learners and to keep the students engaged. Labay-Marquez also appreciated the accessibility to experts and resources via the electronic professional development opportunities available on the NES Virtual Campus.

NES asked Labay-Marquez some questions about using the content in her program for the gifted and talented.

Which featured lessons did you use?
I began with the NASA Now video "The Search for Life" as a lead into the Properties of Living Things: Fingerprints of Life lesson. I extended the lesson by using the interactive online simulator Astro-Venture: Search and Design a Habitable Planet. I also used the NASA Now video "Air Traffic Management" to lead into NASA's online simulator Distance/Rate/Time Problems: Smart Skies™.

How did you integrate the NES resources into your established curriculum and use it to support your objectives?
One of our goals in our math curriculum is to help students explore career opportunities that use the math principles they are learning inside their classroom and apply what they have learned so that they can make a connection from the text to their world. Our Gifted and Talented program expands that goal by differentiating content: appropriately modifying depth, complexity, pacing and exploration of advanced level content in reading, writing, mathematics and science. By integrating NASA's Distance/Rate/Time Problems: Smart Skies™ materials and simulator into my classroom, I can support these objectives and help students develop their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills necessary for success in their future and learn about career choices that will help them become producers and contributing members of society.

Did you make any changes to the NES featured lessons?
I extended the lesson from the Smart Skies™ activity by having students create an animation project that mirrored what they learned from the Distance/Rate/Time Problems: Smart Skies™ simulator activity.

I had students demonstrate what they had learned from the featured lesson "Fingerprints of Life" about finding life "out there." They had to design and build a display highlighting NASA's missions to Mars.

What was your overall experience with the NES content?
Outstanding! The content increased my students' ability to apply science, math and technology concepts in new and exciting ways.

What would you tell other teachers who aren't sure about using the NES content?
I would tell them that the NES resources and materials are created and designed by NASA educators and specialists and provide all students the opportunity to explore STEM in a fun and engaging way. NES content uses advanced technology to spark student's interest in STEM, increase student participation and knowledge about careers in STEM fields, and increase family involvement in STEM activities at school.

I would encourage them to create an account with the NASA Educators Online Network, or NEON, and collaborate and connect with another teacher or educator who may have done the same featured lesson so that they can share their experiences.

Time is a top priority and the featured lesson materials, along with the related resources and extensions, are organized effectively so that everything you need is right at your fingertips. The hard part will be stopping yourself from spending so much of your time looking through more and more of what NES has to offer!

Funds are always on short supply, but there are plenty of incredible resources which contain activities that don't require out-of-pocket expenses (like the online simulators). Many of the activities use common materials that can be found at home, and it's a great way to get the parents involved in their student's project! As teachers, we become masters of improvising and will continue to find creative ways to enhance the student's learning with our available resources.

Speaking of the students, how did they respond to the NES content?
Students love the NASA activities, and you can always hear them telling their friends "how cool this was" and asking me if they can "do it again!" I enjoy when I meet their parents and they tell me how much fun their child had doing the activities in my class.

Were the students more excited about science, engineering, technology and mathematics after the content?
Absolutely! Before Astro-Venture, my students had no idea what an astrobiologist was or does. They were totally engaged in the Smart Skies™ simulator; they never got bored and didn't want to stop having fun learning!

Before Smart Skies™, they had never seen what the control panel of an Air Traffic Controller looked like and were amazed when they figured out that they could "do the math" and be successful problem solvers. They even wanted to do more advanced problems using the simulator.

Did you do anything specific with your students that you can recommend to other teachers?
I played the NASA Now Classroom videos for the featured lessons before introducing the lessons. The NASA Now Classroom videos were a great hook to capture their interest and get them excited about the topic. I also made adjustments to activities to accommodate the learning needs of my students. Some students can take the information and run with it; others needed a little more input and assistance.

When my fifth-grade students saw how much fun the sixth-grade students were having on the Smart Skies™ simulator in the computer lab, they wanted to try it out. So they did!

Did you use any other technology in implementing the featured lessons?
Yes, my sixth-grade math club students extended their learning about Air Traffic Controllers and Air Traffic Management by creating a project that mirrored the Smart Skies™ simulator activity.

My fifth-grade students demonstrated what they learned about finding life on Mars by designing and building a display that highlighted NASA missions to Mars in their search for water (and life) using an invention kit and software to make their display light up, move and make sounds.

Did you use the Help Desk?
Yes, I did need their assistance for some data entry questions I had. They were very helpful and extremely professional.

Did you engage anyone in the students' families or community?
I recently organized an event which included a full day of engaging STEM activities that involved students in elementary and middle schools, including their families. The event enlisted local NASA scientists, engineers and aerospace professionals and integrated various NES and Summer of Innovation resources. One of the highlights of the day was when our community volunteer led students through NASA's Smart Skies™ simulator and cheered them on as they took on the role of an air traffic controller and guided their simulated planes to land safely and on time! Students brought their Mars rovers that they had designed and built and shared what they had learned about STEM with NASA scientists, engineers and aerospace professionals. Students became astrobiologists and worked together as a team to design a habitable planet using the interactive NASA online simulator Astro-Venture. Students and their parents visited with Dr. Scott Bolton, PI (Principle Investigator) for NASA's Juno mission and learned all about NASA's deep space exploration program. The event was made possible by a mini-grant from NASA's Summer of Innovation project. With the support of the Texas Space Grant Consortium; Southwest Texas American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: P-20 Initiatives from the University of Texas at San Antonio; UTSA Mexican American Engineers and Scientists: and the Hispanic Association of Aviation and Aerospace Professionals, in addition to my school district, the students and families had an out-of-this-world experience!

Will you do more featured lessons this next year?
Absolutely. I plan to do the new module - Electromagnetic Spectrum, Meteorology: How Clouds Form. I also plan to use the NASA and Eco Schools USA project, inspired by the Earth Climate Course.

Please visit the About NASA Explorer Schools section to learn more about the benefits of registratio

Related Resources:
› NASA Explorer Schools 2011 Teacher Selections
› About NEON
Astro-Venture   →

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Joan Labay-Marquez
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Page Last Updated: August 26th, 2013
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