Distinguished Explorers
The best success stories are those that lead to even more success stories.

A model Saturn V stands outside the school

Students are greeted by a 29-foot model of NASA's Saturn V rocket at the entrance to Hobgood Elementary School. Several businesses in the community donated materials and labor for the Saturn V model. Image Credit: Hobgood Elementary School

Hobgood Elementary School's involvement with the NASA Explorer Schools project was already a success story. Winning national recognition leveraged that success story into yet another one.

Located in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Hobgood was selected in 2005 as a participant in the NASA Explorer Schools project. After completing its initial three-year involvement in the original NES project, the school has used that experience as a foundation for improving STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education efforts.

That work was recognized recently when Hobgood received the National Title I Distinguished Schools Award. The award recognizes Title I schools, which have a poverty rate of at least 35 percent, either for exceptional student performance for two or more consecutive years or for closing the achievement gap between student groups.

Barbara Sales, principal of Hobgood Elementary, said she was pleasantly surprised to learn that her state's department of education had nominated Hobgood in the second category. She said she knew scores at the school had been increasing, but she had no idea how they compared with others in the state.

"The announcement that we had been chosen as the National Title I Distinguished School for the state of Tennessee for 'closing the achievement gap between subgroups' was met with extreme excitement and a humble spirit," Sales said. "Just being nominated was an honor."

Hobgood credits its involvement with NES as a major contributing factor in its accomplishment.

Originally, the NASA Explorer Schools project partnered with specific school teams selected to participate in the project. In 2010, the project was revamped to broaden the scope of schools that could participate, making NES resources available to any school that wants to use them. Today, the NASA Explorer Schools project is NASA's classroom-based gateway for middle and high school students. The project provides authentic learning experiences designed around NASA's unique missions while promoting student engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. NES allows students to participate in NASA's mission of research and discovery through inquiry-based experiences designed around the work of NASA scientists and engineers.

Chick Knitter holds a Chinese yo-yo

Hobgood teacher Chick Knitter is experimenting with the effects of microgravity on a Japanese yo-yo during a weightless moment on NASA's microgravity aircraft. Image Credit: NASA

Through the NES project, Hobgood students and faculty had the opportunity to take advantage of numerous NASA resources to supplement STEM education efforts at the school. The school made extensive use of NASA's Digital Learning Network. The DLN allowed students and teachers to interact with education specialists and with scientists and engineers at NASA centers across the country, and to take virtual field trips to such places as an underwater laboratory and the California desert.

Participating in NES gave Hobgood teachers access to unique professional development opportunities, including a propulsion workshop at NASA's Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi and a workshop on mathematics and aerospace at the agency's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

Hobgood science teacher Chick Knitter even had the opportunity to fly on a NASA reduced-gravity aircraft flight. He operated a student-designed experiment while floating in the microgravity environment.

"One of the factors that is most evident (in the award) is in the professional development opportunities that the staff has taken advantage of through the program," Sales said. "It opened the way for us to begin to think more like scientists and thus begin to instruct our students from a more scientific perspective. We employed more hands-on strategies and linked the classroom applications to real life scenarios. This connection seemed to work well for the students."

When Hobgood officials asked students what they love about their school, NASA themes were high among the answers. "There's a rocket in front of our school," said one first-grade student. "When I see it, it reminds me that people have gone into space; that they had to practice and practice before they got there."

"DLNs are fun and educational," said a sixth-grade student. "It feels like talking to the president when I talk to an astronaut. And, of course, an astronomer came to school and brought a portable star dome. It was the best thing that ever happened at school."

Among the members of the advisory council that supported Hobgood during its original NES involvement was astronaut Rhea Seddon. Seddon, who grew up in the community served by Hobgood and currently lives in Murfreesboro, is a testament to what students from the community can achieve. Thanks in part to the NASA Explorer Schools project, Hobgood has been recognized for working to make sure those opportunities are available to all students the school serves.

Related Resources:
NASA Education
NASA Explorer Schools
Where Astronauts Come From

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services