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Giving Back to the Military
Two students sitting on the floor constructing a rocket with tape, colored paper and scissors

Students constructed rockets while learning about rocketry at a NASA camp. Image Credit: NASA/KSC

It's no secret that military families in the United States have faced a difficult decade. In an effort to determine ways to assist the families, a study directed by the White House called for government agencies to find ways to support U.S. military families. In response to the White House's national campaign called "Joining Forces," NASA Education outlined a strategic plan with seven key recommendations to support our nation's military families.

The recommendations were built upon the vision that "NASA will use the excitement of space to engage the nation's military families with information on NASA resources, STEM careers and opportunities for children." The seven recommendations have served as a roadmap for building a coalition that has embraced internal organizations, other federal agencies, non-private organizations and the Department of Defense Education Activity. Many military children and their families worldwide have benefitted from this initiative since April 2011. As a result, education offices from two NASA centers took up the call and provided almost 250 students in grades K-12 with a learning experience they will remember for a long time.

NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi reached out to military families stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. Knowing that NASA can provide unique learning experiences, the Education Office at Stennis, in a partnership with NASA's Teaching From Space Office, offered to bring their Astro Camp to school-aged children at Keesler. Astro Camp is typically a week-long camp for students who are 7-12 years of age and focuses on activities that engage campers in hands-on activities, computer learning, onsite field trips and more. The camp is fun-filled with themed missions and experiences that make learning about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fun and exciting.

A girl wearing safety goggles holds up a large chunk of ice

Students made "snow" in an experiment while learning about the Stardust Mission. Image Credit: NASA/SSC

The theme for the four-day Keesler camp was "SpaceRocks: It Came from Beyond the Solar System." Participants explored the structure and composition of the solar system and beyond; they studied the tools scientists use to investigate extreme objects in space. Campers also explored the rockets used to send astronauts and space probes on their out-of-this-world journeys.

The camp was a huge success, with nearly all of the participating students responding that they learned something new. It's also the beginning of a partnership between Stennis Space Center and Keesler Air Force Base to provide NASA education experiences to military children and to train children and youth care providers. It is hoped that this activity can be expanded to other military bases in summer 2012.

Like Stennis Space Center, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida reached out to military families. Kennedy's Education Office also collaborated with the Teaching From Space Office and was able to visit the following locations: Fort Stewart Military Post in Hinesville, Ga.; Fort Gordon Garrison in Fort Gordon, Ga.; Fort Benning in Fort Benning, Ga.; and MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.

The goals for each of the four visits included exposing the students to different activities to increase their interest in aerospace and STEM careers; to provide the students with the unique opportunity to talk to and interact with NASA engineers and scientists; to give students some exciting hands-on experiences that promote STEM learning; and to increase the students' and families' awareness of NASA education programs.

Orange and black model rockets sit on a table where students are seated

Students learned about rocketry by building and launching model rockets. Image Credit: NASA/SSC

To help meet the goals, younger students watched a video about living and working in space. After watching the video, the students engaged in activities that demonstrated living and working in space, including getting to see some actual "space food," trying on a sleeping bag used in space, and having a question-and-answer session with NASA staff. Older students had the opportunity to design and build their own rockets using an empty 2-liter bottle and miscellaneous items to make the rocket fins and cones. Students then launched their rocket, which helped test their design concepts.

The students had lots of questions and were excited about the activities that demonstrated STEM concepts. A number of students were knowledgeable about engineering and expressed a desire to have more interaction with engineers and scientists. There was a time for questions and answers after each session, which gave the students plenty of opportunities to broaden their knowledge and learn more about being in space. In all, Kennedy's Education Office reached over 200 students in grades K-12. It will be hosting more camps in the fall of 2011.

Students at all of the camps appreciated the events that NASA brought. The attendees reported that every one of them learned something new, and virtually 100 percent of them rated the camp as "great." Other students had more telling responses: They let the counselors know how much they appreciated the visits by saying, "You guys really are thinking of us." With so much success, there are plans for continuing and expanding the effort for summer 2012.

Military families who have had or will have a deployed family member can face significant challenges. Military bases do an exceptional job with the children affected by deployment by providing students with extracurricular opportunities. NASA was proud to be able to assist their efforts by providing fun, hands-on, inquiry-based learning experiences that engaged students in STEM. With plans to try to extend these efforts in the future, NASA can continue to give back to those who have already given so much for our country.

Related Resources:
› NASA's Teaching From Space
› Stennis Education
› Astro Camp   →
› NASA's Astro Camp for Military Children Video
› Kennedy Education
› Presidential Study Directive Report on Military Families   →

Heather S. Deiss/NASA Educational Technology Services