Inspiring the Next Generation of Teachers
Participants sitting in a circle in a dark room with a bright light in the center

Aerospace Education Specialist Wil Robertson engages PSTI students in a learning activity designed to demonstrate the phases of the moon. Image Credit: NASA

A group of 13 rising juniors and seniors, who are starting student teaching assignments this fall, learned how to incorporate science, technology and mathematics content into their K-12 classrooms at one of NASA’s Pre-Service Teacher Institutes, which took place June 17-29, 2007.

The NASA/Oakwood College Pre-Service Teacher Institute, organized by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is a two-week residential institute for college students who are preparing to teach in an elementary or middle school. The project is designed to increase students' skills in teaching mathematics and science while incorporating technology in the curriculum and supports NASA's goal of strengthening the agency's and the nation's future workforce.

The PSTI faculty is comprised of professors, administrators and teachers from Alabama colleges, universities and schools, and NASA education specialists, who guide participants through a wide range of learning activities designed to model inquiry-based learning in mathematics and science and the effective use of technology in teaching and learning.

Students attending this year's institute represented Oakwood College, Alabama A&M University, Miles College and Tuskegee University, all in Alabama, and Bethune-Cookman College and University of Central Florida, both in Florida. This is the sixth year Marshall Space Flight Center, in partnership with Oakwood College, has managed the project.

A participant wearing a white lab coat watches a student, kneeling on the ground, launch a rocket

Pre-service teachers developed and taught lessons on rocketry to Oakwood Academy Day Camp students as one of the institute’s culminating activities. Image Credit: NASA

During their two-week stay in Huntsville, students visited the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Sci-Quest, a hands-on science center. They also toured NASA facilities, including Marshall's Educator Resource Center, and participated in a workshop about the STS-118 shuttle mission, which carried the first Educator Astronaut, Barbara Morgan, into space. During the workshop, the student teachers built plant growth chambers, similar to ones that flew on the mission.

The pre-service teachers engaged with educators already in the field during a joint workshop with three newly selected NASA Explorer Schools teams. The NES teachers, representing schools in Iowa, Louisiana and Missouri, were at Marshall for a week-long NES orientation.

Wilbert Brown, principal at Huntsville's Academy for Academics and Arts and site coordinator for the Pre-Service Teacher Institute, said today's teachers need to include more interactive science in the classroom because it is the hands-on activities that make a child grow up to like science. The Pre-Service Teacher Institute does that, he said, by showing up-and-coming teachers how to effectively incorporate science and math topics into their classrooms.

"We want these teachers who are graduating to feel comfortable about going into the classroom and teaching science," Brown said.

One way the project boosts participants' confidence is by having them design a lesson plan and teach it to real, elementary-age students. Participants divided into four project groups and presented their lessons to groups of eight third- through fifth-graders.

"They are taking the things they learned in science, math and technology, and lesson planning, and trying them out," Brown said.

Brown is so confident in the success of the institute that he hired a former participant to teach at his school. "I want to make sure when I hire a teacher that the teacher is not going to put science education on the back burner," he said. "The excitement that they have shown during the week, I know that they're going to use these things in their student teaching."

Participants sitting inside a black tarp inflated with air from a fan

Pre-service teachers explore constellations in a planetarium built by NASA Explorer Schools teachers. New NES teachers shared newly learned inquiry-based teaching strategies with Pre-Service Teacher Institute students. Image Credit: NASA

One of this year's participants, Karena Johnson, a junior at Tuskegee, taught a lesson and activity where students made balloon rockets using various sizes of balloons and a film-canister rocket using varying amounts of effervescent tablets and water as the propellant.

Johnson said the institute introduced her to new teaching methods, as well as the science and math lessons. She hopes to teach elementary school, particularly third-, fourth- or fifth-graders. "I'm not a science person, but the experiments have been really neat," she said. "I would recommend it for anybody that wants to be a teacher."

Miles senior Jamie Hodge and Alabama A&M senior Crystal Alexander made a rocket launcher, which they used in their student presentation. They called their launcher "Sunshot." The device was made out of wood and used rubber bands attached to a small, round platform to launch small rockets. A string hanging under the platform was used to pull the platform down. When the string was released, both the platform and the rocket shot upward in a slingshot-like motion.

To launch with Sunshot, a string hanging under the platform was used to pull the platform down and then released, sending both the platform and the rocket upward in a slingshot-like motion.

Hodge and Alexander said the most valuable part of the institute was all of the resources they received -- from lesson plans to online resources to materials from the Educator Resource Center. "It's a lot of stuff and it's all beneficial," Alexander said. "I'm going to need a library of binders for all that stuff."

One activity Alexander plans to use in her future teaching assignments is a planetarium activity where students make constellations inside an air-blown tarp. "I was just so impressed with that," she said. "I fell in love with that. I want to make one when I get home for my nephew."

Hodge, on the other hand, is looking at how she can adapt activities geared at elementary students to the middle and high school level. Her major is math and secondary education, and she hopes to teach high school math, specifically eleventh-grade trigonometry, at the high school she attended in Birmingham, Ala. "All these things can be used for middle school and high school," Hodge said.

Alexander wants to stay in the Huntsville area and teach early childhood or elementary -- no higher than fourth-grade, she said. But, with enthusiasm, she added, "I just want to teach. I don't care, really. I just want to teach."

Related Resources
Lunar Plant Growth Chamber
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Pre-Service Teacher Institute  →
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center  →
NASA Education Web Site  →

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services