How I Used NES In My Classroom: Meet Teacher Wendy Dlakic
Wendy Dlakic is a second-year teacher at Sleeping Giant Middle School in Livingston, Mont. During the 2010-2011 school year, Wendy used the NASA Explorer Schools content in her eighth-grade physical science classroom.
NES asked Wendy 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?
NES' online format was one of the original draws for me. I love that everything is on the website and so accessible. As a new teacher, I had little extra time in my first year, but I could always find the units, video clips and other materials on the website. And the Web seminars were really helpful. The Web seminars offered me an excellent opportunity to learn more about the specific units that NES offers that tie in well with my curriculum. The Web seminars gave me the confidence to take it from a printed module into action in the classroom. The NASA name was also a big attraction for me. I was excited that NASA was offering and creating this environment specifically for teachers to gain access to their learning materials and the many opportunities NASA offers to teachers and students.
How did you integrate the NES resource into your established curriculum and use it to support your objectives?
Engineering Design Process: On the Moon Educator Guide: On Target
I implemented the On the Moon: On Target featured lesson with all of my eighth-graders in physical science. For the lesson, I started with the NASA video clips and simulations available on the website that provides extensive information all about the mission. I was careful not to reveal the outcome from the mission to the students about whether or not they had detected water-ice on the moon, even though the results had been shared just recently with the public. The students were interested in the idea of water on the moon and why we would go to such lengths to detect it.
NASA Now Classroom Videos
I incorporated some of our standards from physics such as Newton’s first law, momentum, speed, and especially gravitational potential energy and potential and kinetic energy. The zipline used as part of the lesson really lent itself well to the energy concepts, and I think it helped students visualize the big ideas, as well as the engineering design process, as they continually modified in an attempt to hit the target.
They really enjoyed the whole engineering design process. Each pair had to demo their design for the class and see if they could hit the target during the demo. Every student also turned in a complete project write-up with explanations, diagrams and calculations that essentially followed the scientific method allowing for explanations as they improved their designs.
For their final reflection, I asked each student to write whether or not they thought NASA found water-ice on the moon, and it was pretty much split 50-50 (miraculously, only one student actually went on the website to look up the results, and she kept it quiet as I'd asked!).
A lot of the students were really surprised by NASA’s results from the LCROSS mission and, hopefully, inspired by the mission as well. When I surveyed the students at the end of the year and asked them to pick one of the highlights of the NASA units we did, the LCROSS unit was the hands-down favorite.
For the lesson, I actually had three ziplines running in my classroom. I had the students work as partners or alone. With some classes having 26 students, we needed more than one zipline for them to be able test things properly and then do design modification. It was crazy, but as the unit continued, students would just come into the classroom and immediately start setting up the ziplines to get working!
I found some great ideas from other NES teachers on NASA Educators Online Network, or NEON, who suggested the point scoring for demos and using sand in aluminum pans to keep the marbles from bouncing. I'm definitely doing that next time!
I used the NASA Now Classroom Videos as part of something I did in my classroom called NASA Fridays. Once I saw the NES website with all of the materials and the weekly NASA Now videos, I just thought something like NASA Fridays would be a great way to incorporate NASA and all that it is into my classroom.
What was your overall experience with the NES featured lessons?
When I pre-assessed my students before our first NASA Friday, most of them didn't know what NASA stood for, and they definitely didn't know what NASA was up to, even with the International Space Station! It turned out to be a lot of fun and something the students and I really looked forward to. So, on many Fridays I would show a NASA Now video, and we would have a discussion both before and after the clip.
The "Questions to ask before watching" and the "Questions to ask after watching" that are provided for each NASA Now video were really helpful to me as a new teacher.
Depending on what else we were studying at the time, I would do other things during that 50-minute class period as well, but sometimes we did extension activities suggested by NASA. One of the best things to come out of it was that as I got more comfortable as a new teacher with our NASA Fridays, I started to let the students determine where we might go once we were in a good discussion.
I remember one NASA Now clip called "Inflatable Structures" that ended up taking the entire period, but in an amazing way. The students got really excited about the possibilities of permanent lunar outposts. Before I knew it, they were sketching designs, modifying and even suggesting materials for construction, keeping in mind what’s on the moon, payload, cost and such. I had students at the whiteboard sharing their ideas with the class, drawing pictures and making their case. It’s one of those precious moments where you wish you had a camera recording them because they were just so excited. I think a lot of them started thinking, "Okay, I COULD work for NASA and design something like this!"
The NES featured lessons are excellent. They are both well-designed and align well with state standards. With online access, I easily could download the components for the lesson, read through it, make copies, choose the parts I wanted to focus on, etc. I like that I have instant access to those materials and once I download them, I have them forever. My feeling is that the featured lessons are designed carefully with both the teacher and student in mind, and by someone who has experience in education and has taught in the classroom before. I wouldn’t hesitate to use more modules in the future and to recommend them to my colleagues.
Did NES provide you with all of the needed elements to successfully use the content in the classroom?
Everything a teacher needs is provided on the NES website, and if you have questions, they will write you back very quickly! I actually had a guy from NASA writing me while he was traveling from a meeting across the country to answer my questions about the NASA Optimus Prime Spin-off Video Contest. NASA people answer their emails impressively quick!
Were there any out-of-pocket costs?
As with most hands-on activities, there are some out-of-pocket costs, mostly on consumables such as tape. For On the Moon: On Target, I spent some money on tape and the small paper cups. One of my students brought in fishing line for the ziplines, and I borrowed marbles from another science teacher.
What would you tell other teachers who aren’t sure about trying the NES content?
I would tell them not to fear. I was a first-year teacher and still managed to teach the lessons and had a great time doing it while the students learned! My recommendation would be to just find a module that interests you as a teacher and aligns with your standards, and then just jump in and go for it! Everything is there in the featured lesson that you need: supply lists, directions for teacher, directions for students, potential pitfalls, suggested extension activities and even standards. My feeling is that these NES featured lessons are tried and true from NASA; they have not just been thrown together as someone’s great idea. The lessons ARE someone’s great idea, but they come with all the supporting information and materials that any teacher could need.
The time invested to implement the NES content pays off in a huge way in the classroom. Your students will be engaged and learning, and you will feel great about the lessons as a teacher. You'll have time to help the students, to float around the room as they work, and to think about great ways of extending the activity and assessing them formally and informally.
Speaking of the students, how did they respond to the NES content?
At the end of the school year, I did a quick formative post-assessment with all of my eighth-graders about NASA and NASA Fridays in my classroom. The students seemed to gain an appreciation for what NASA is currently doing and are excited about the future of NASA. They told me to keep having NASA Fridays. One student went so far as to say that it was one of the main reasons he made it to school on Fridays -- he never wanted to miss a NASA Friday! The students suggested having even more hands-on activities that go directly with the NASA Now clips and doing even more featured lessons.
They also suggested taking part in more NASA contests. All of those things are something I'm going to try to implement in my classroom this year. After reading all of their post-assessments about NASA Fridays, I was so inspired that I actually cut out their papers and mailed them directly to NES to share with them. I know that the folks at NES are just as passionate about STEM education as I am, and I wanted to share something concrete with them from my students about NASA. I hope it inspired them too.
Were the students more excited about STEM after using the NES content?
Absolutely, they were especially excited about the engineering design process. I don’t think most eighth-graders had been exposed to the engineering design process, so it was really something new for them to wrap their heads around: the idea that you build, test, modify and do it all over again as you improve your model. Also, I think these real-life scenarios of science in progress, like the On the Moon: On Target's LCROSS mission or designing inflatable structures for space outposts, get students excited.
Did you do anything else that you can recommend to other teachers?
Well, maybe (I would recommend) something like NASA Fridays. The idea was to give them something special about NASA to look forward to during the week. They never knew what was coming because there was always plenty of variety. It's a great way to meet the standards around current events in science and technology.
I highly recommend giving them a pre- and post- assessment at the beginning and end of the school year. Test the students to see what they know about NASA at the start -- it probably won’t be very much -- and contrast it with what they've learned about and through NASA by the end! I had one student who said his brother in high school was disappointed that he couldn't come to NASA Fridays and participate in our classroom.
Did other students in your school see what you were doing and become interested?
We definitely had students walking by the classroom during the On the Moon: On Target's featured lesson with ziplines wondering what we were up to. When I had my second-quarter STEM class filming videos for the NASA Optimus Prime Spin-off Video Contest, a lot of students and faculty started asking about what we were doing. We screened some of the clips and put the website on our school television so students could go on YouTube to watch the videos and take part in the voting.
Did you use any other technology in implementing the featured lessons?
I used my personal laptop to download the NASA Now clips. Students also used computers to assist them in the On the Moon: On Target write-ups. The students used handheld Flip video cameras to film the contest videos.
Did you engage anyone in the students' families or from the community?
This is a big goal for me over the next few years. I'd really like to engage students from the elementary schools and local families. I’m still working out the details, but I’d love to have my STEM students put on a "NASA Night" each quarter and invite groups to take part. I want the students to pick the NASA topic and decide what and how they are going to engage their audience and convey the endeavors of NASA to them.
Will you do more featured lessons this next year?
Absolutely! I’ve already been on the NES website to see what the new modules are, and I’ve already signed up for the accompanying NES Web seminars. I'm excited because two more units align really well with my physical science standards!
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