How I Used NES In My Classroom: Meet Teacher Kaci Heins
For the 2010-2011 school year, Kaci Heins was a fifth-grade classroom teacher at The PEAK School in Flagstaff, Ariz. A six-year teaching veteran, Kaci learned about the NASA Explorer Schools project, or NES, at a National Science Teachers Association conference in October 2010.
NES asked Kaci some questions regarding her experience with the NES project. She had some great advice and information to share with other teachers.
Why did you decide to join NES?
I thought it all sounded great, but it was the teacher recognition opportunities that hooked me. I thought it was so great to get rewarded for the implementation of the materials. We don’t always feel appreciated for our hard work in the classroom.
How did you integrate the NES resources into your established curriculum and use it to support your objectives?
Distance/Rate/Time Problems: Smart Skies™
I used the Smart Skies™ lesson in my math curriculum. Our math resources were limited in our classroom, so this lesson was a great resource for students to learn how math is used in the real world. Items such as calculating distances and speeds met the objectives of basic math operations.
NASA Now Classroom Videos
The students were placed in groups of two and three. So a lot of collaboration was going on when they were making their predictions, checking each other’s math, and developing their decision-making skills. If students couldn’t initially agree on the speed or routes that their planes had to take, they had to work out a compromise. Then, if they failed on their simulation, they had to problem-solve to get their planes to their destinations safely and on time.
I really liked Smart Skies™ because it also exposed the students to new careers that they might not have even thought of or considered previously.
Smart Skies™ Extensions
At my (former) school, a lot of my students had never even seen an airplane, let alone have any idea what an air traffic controller was. I really wanted to make this module come to life for the students because they had worked so well with it.
I contacted the Civil Air Patrol* office in Flagstaff, as well as the director of our local airport, to see if we could arrange a field trip, and everyone was on board for the trip. The students were able to go inside the Civil Air Patrol plane. They loved sitting in the cockpit with the headphones on, learning about what all the instruments did. After our time with the airplane, we visited the air traffic control tower. We went up in the tower in small groups to see the equipment and meet real air traffic controllers. We were even able to see a few planes land and take off.
To wrap up our trip, we stopped by the airport fire station to learn about their HUGE trucks and how they keep the runways clear of snow in the wintertime. I loved this unit. And I think adding on the field trip made it all very real to the students, and they will never forget!
* My students were part of the Civil Air Patrol Aerospace Connections in Education program. This program focuses on learning about flight, space, character, physical education and being drug free.
I love the NASA Now Classroom Videos and so did the students. I even used one as jumping-off point with the Smart Skies™ lesson. We made it a point to watch the NASA Now videos every Wednesday after recess when the new videos came out. The students were always excited to see that week's new video. It was great because they are short, sweet and to the point. They also loved the extension activities that the videos usually had at the end. However, the students would want to do them right then. And it would be the first time that I had seen the activities as well, so it wasn’t easy to be prepared.
What was your overall experience with the NES featured lessons?
The NASA Now videos also exposed my students to so many amazing careers that they had never heard of before! What an impact this can have on young students. After watching a segment on robotics, students correlated that to, “Hey! I’m on the LEGO™ robotics team, and I could do that one day when I grow up!” This exposure to careers in the STEM fields is powerful for students. This year we may watch them on a Thursday so I can see what the activities are beforehand.
I loved the modules. They are easy to navigate and I LOVE how there is professional development videos available that I can watch on my own time. I like how the videos are broken up so that I can skip around to what I need. On one module I still had questions after watching the online videos, so it was great that I could attend a webinar with others in real-time to get my questions answered.
Did NES provide you with all of the needed elements to successfully use the content in the classroom?
I feel that they do. I find the featured lessons easy to follow and easy to implement. I think the best part is the online professional development. I don’t know of many other free programs that would provide such in-depth modeling and teaching for their products. The key for teachers’ being able to implement these efficiently is knowing how the lessons work, and that is what the online professional development does. It made a world of difference for me because I felt more confident in using them for the first time. If I had not seen the Smart Skies™ professional development webinar and on-demand videos, I don’t think I would have felt confident enough to try the lessons in the classroom. Originally, I was not very sure about certain aspects with the simulator, but all of my questions were answered. "Big thank you" for providing that resource for us!
Speaking of the students, how did they respond to the NES content?
They loved the Smart Skies™ lessons, and the NASA Now Classroom videos. I had one student say he wanted to be a pilot after the Smart Skies™ lessons.
Were the students more excited about STEM after the content?
Absolutely! It was great to see students understand that there is a reason for them to learn math! With the Smart Skies™ lessons, they had a reason to try and work harder on their multiplication and division facts because doing so would help them to work more quickly and more efficiently in their groups. They would start to get the hang of making their calculations and develop more confidence in their math skills. Then, they could also take what they learned from the module and apply it to the math curriculum that we were learning. It was a win-win situation.
Did other students in your school see what you were doing and become interested?
Oh yes, especially the fourth-graders who would be coming up to fifth grade. They noticed all of our field trips and projects.
Did you do anything else that you can recommend to other teachers?
I would recommend the field trips at the end of the modules. Showing how the skill the students learned can be applied in the real world is pretty powerful. It helps them make connections that sometimes a piece of paper or an illustration can’t. They get to actually meet the people that work in these positions and can ask them questions.
I know it can be tough with budgets, but if there is a will, then there is a way. A lot of times if the class can’t get out to the destination, then you can always ask to see if guests can come into the classroom or use video conferencing.
What would you tell other teachers who aren’t sure about trying the featured lessons?
I would tell teachers to look at their curriculum and see what they will be focusing on in the next couple months. Once they find an overall theme, I would have them try to find a module that would tie into it. Starting a month out will allow them the time and flexibility to go over all the materials, do some online professional development, ask questions and be fully prepared.
I feel it is pointless and exhausting to try and do these modules quickly without proper thought and planning. It is easier to just push a module to the side or toss it out if time constraints pile up. However, with planning, I would say that the modules are well worth it. The students are very engaged; they have a common goal; and the end product is something they will be very proud of.
Did you engage anyone in the students' families or from the community?
I had a lot of positive family engagement for our field trips. I taught at a charter school so I had to rely on parents to help me get the students to where we needed to go. They loved the trips, and I always had volunteers to drive! They drove students out to the airport and participated in the entire trip.
Were there any difficulties in performing the activities?
No. If I planned ahead of time, then I was prepared with materials, technology, etc. I did run out of time for the lunar plant growth module, but that was my own fault.
Did you use any other technology in implementing the featured lessons?
I just used a projector and computers for the modules. I am going to try clickers this year for formative assessments.
Did you have to use the Help Desk at all?
I did one time when I tried to log an activity and it wouldn’t submit. They were very helpful and the response time was quick.
Will you use more featured lessons in the future?
Yes! I can’t wait to see the new ones that will be added!
Please visit the About NASA Explorer Schools
section to learn more about the benefits of registration.
› NASA Explorer Schools 2011 Teacher Selections
› Sample NASA Now Video