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At the Crossroads for Science Education
Leland Melvin stands at a podium

Leland Melvin shares his experiences as an astronaut and his passion for STEM with teachers at NSTA. Credit: NSTA

NASA Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin and Deputy Associate Administrator Jim Stofan showed the agency's ongoing support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education at this year’s National Science Teachers Association annual conference held in Indianapolis, March 29-April 1. The theme for this year's conference was "At the Crossroads for Science Education," and more than 7,000 science teachers attended.

Pre-conference festivities kicked off the evening of March 28 with a public engagement program called Science Rocks! This free community event was designed to electrify parents, teachers and students about the exciting world of science through hands-on activities. Science Rocks! also connected young learners and their families with accomplished scientists to demonstrate the importance of science education.

Melvin, who in addition to being the head of NASA education, is a scientist, engineer and former two-time shuttle astronaut, participated along with an Indy racecar driver, a biochemist/gamer, a mathematician and a chemist. Together these professionals shared their experiences and enthusiasm for STEM to inspire the participants. They even helped the students conduct a "cool" chemistry experiment using instant snow to learn about endothermic and exothermic reactions.

On Friday, Melvin gave an NSTA conference feature presentation entitled "Inspiring the Next Generation of STEM Leaders." Weaving a story of astronaut experiences, science and engineering studies, and a passion for STEM, Melvin challenged the teachers in attendance to reach higher and help their students attain their dreams. He shared ways that NASA uses its unique resources and programs to inspire young learners to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Following his presentation, Melvin joined in a recognition ceremony for NASA's SEMAA program (Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy), hosted locally in the Indianapolis area by Martin University. SEMAA is an enrichment program aimed at inspiring, engaging and educating K-12 students in STEM using NASA content. Martin University has been part of the NASA family since 2010, and it already has served more than 1400 students.

Leland Melvin and Malendy Lovett hold TI-Nspire devices

NASA's Leland Melvin and Texas Instruments' Malendy Lovett demonstrate the TI-Nspire Handhelds. These devices, pre-loaded with NASA content, were donated to the SEMAA program at Martin University. Credit: NSTA

Staff from NASA's Johnson Space Center's Human Research Education Outreach program were also on hand for the ceremony with representatives from their partner organization, Texas Instruments Education Technology and its "T-Cubed" network -- Teacher's Teaching with Technology. This very successful partnership encourages STEM studies among middle and high school students; it also provides teacher professional development opportunities. In recognition of the mutual commitment to STEM education, TI made a generous contribution of technology to Martin University/NASA's SEMAA program to continue its STEM endeavors.

"Being around all of these dedicated science teachers and STEM enthusiasts has been so rewarding -- it's really re-energized me," said Melvin. "NASA is in a unique position to use its programs, missions and exploration goals to promote STEM education, and teachers are key partners for success in this area."

During the pre-conference activities earlier in the week, Stofan offered a workshop on NASA’s Integrating Digital Education Assets, or IDEA. The demonstration project began in 2009 and is a collaborative effort between NASA and Oklahoma State University to investigate how NASA content might help state and local school districts meet established standards and criteria. The workshop reviewed the project’s effectiveness and identified best practices lessons learned. Response from the IDEA participants and the accompanying data from the program implementation were overwhelmingly positive.

NASA education staff also hosted other NSTA workshops and offered interactive exhibits designed to show teachers how to use the allure of space to help grow the next generation of scientists, engineers and explorers.

Related Resources:
› NASA Education
› NASA's Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy

Ann Marie Trotta/NASA HQ Public Affairs Office