One Thing Leads to Another
Student holding his drawing of his patch

Johnny, a Key Peninsula student, displays his winning patch design for the school's NASA patch contest. Image Credit: Kareen Borders

NASA Explorer Schools across the country are improving science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction by incorporating NASA content and support into their classrooms. But what happens after the project's three-year partnership is up?

For the schools to be successful, they must find a way to continue what the NASA Explorer Schools project starts. Therefore, one goal of NES is for schools to use the NASA partnership to build relationships with other programs and agencies that can further support the schools' goals in STEM education.

One NASA Explorer School that has accomplished this goal is Key Peninsula Middle School in Lakebay, Wash. Located on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington's Puget Sound, Key Peninsula serves 570 students in grades six through eight. It was selected as a NASA Explorer School in 2004 and is now in its sustainability period.

The NASA Explorer Schools project is one of many NASA projects that support the agency's goal of attracting and retaining students in STEM disciplines. To accomplish that, schools enter a three-year partnership with NASA during which they set specific goals that the NASA project helps them meet. Schools then transition into a sustainability period where the initiatives that were started during the first three years are continued through the support of the partnerships formed because of the project.

The partnerships Key Peninsula formed during its three-year action-plan period have been essential to the school's being able to continue what it started. Key Peninsula teacher Kareen Borders said the school has used its partnerships to maintain the initiatives that are making the biggest impact on students.

"When we look at our sustainability, we always run it through the filter of the impact on our kids, and the things that we do are based on that," said Borders, who teaches sixth- and eighth-grade science and is the lead for Key Peninsula's NASA Explorer Schools team.

"We're actually doing just about everything we were doing when we were not in the sustainability part of the project," Borders said.

One impact the school has realized is the "domino effect" of applying for a grant or getting involved in a program and then through that opportunity learning about more grants and more programs. Some of the opportunities that have come about, either directly or indirectly from the NASA partnership, are:
--A Hooked on Hydroponics grant from the National Gardening Association to acquire gardening and lighting materials to grow plants without soil. The school's grant proposal outlined the correlation between NASA's plans for long-term space exploration and the need for alternate methods of food production.

Three teachers in orange flight suits

Key Peninsula teachers Cindy Knisely, Ron Stark and Kareen Borders participated in NASA Explorer Schools sustainability training at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Image Credit: Kareen Borders

--Grants from groups including the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Washington Education Association. The grants are used to hold NASA family nights, involve teachers in professional development programs, enhance classroom materials, and send students and teachers to rocket launch opportunities at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility and to NASA's Johnson Space Center to support reduced-gravity flight experiments.

--Grants to participate in the National Geographic Society's JASON project. The project incorporates research from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Geographic into science curriculum units for middle school students and professional development for teachers. The current curriculum, Operation: Monster Storms, teaches students how powerful storms form and how new technology is being used to better understand and forecast weather.

--Grants to support activities and materials to launch experiments on high-altitude balloons and rockets. Key Peninsula students designed one experiment that launched on a high-altitude balloon and two experiments that rode on a NASA sounding rocket. The balloon and sounding rocket programs are managed by NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. This year, the school was selected to launch three experiments on a suborbital rocket as part of the Launchquest program, which gives middle and high school students the opportunity to send research experiments into space.

--Educator participation in professional development opportunities offered by NASA and NASA partners. These include the National Optical Astronomy Observatory's Astronomy Research Based Science Education program, which trains teachers in astronomy content and research pedagogy; the NASA-funded Lunar and Planetary Institute, a research institute dedicated to studying the solar system; NASA's Spaceward Bound project where teachers experience field-based scientific research in an extreme environment, like the Atacama or Mojave deserts, and take what they have learned back to their classrooms; and the Spitzer Space Telescope Research Program, where teachers and students are given observation time on NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

--Participation in activities related to NASA's Exploring Space Challenges. Exploring Space Challenges is a compilation of investigations and design challenges that span all grade levels in the primary and secondary schools. The project supports many of the national education standards for science, mathematics, technology and the arts. Key Peninsula students participated in the Mission: Hurricane challenge where students studied NASA hurricane data and then wrote a short story about the life of a hurricane.

--Participation in classroom activities based on NASA's Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber. Key Peninsula sixth-graders are participating in a NASA challenge for students to design and build their own plant growth chambers, or mini-greenhouses, and test them by growing cinnamon basil seeds that flew on the STS-118 space shuttle mission in 2007.

Two students giving a presentation

Eighth-grade students Katya and Kelsey present research findings at the NASA Explorer Schools Student Symposium in Washington, D.C. Image Credit: Kareen Borders

--Student and educator participation in NASA's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities. Two years in a row, students in the eighth-grade aerospace class have designed experiments to fly on a reduced-gravity flight. Both experiments tested the effects of microgravity on chemical reactions. The experiments specifically observed the rate at which baking soda and vinegar mixed to create carbon dioxide gas.

--Student participation in the Women Fly career exploration and networking event at Seattle's Museum of Flight. The school has received funds from the Peninsula School District for female students to attend the event.
In addition to special projects, each year the school integrates more and more NASA and STEM materials into its curriculum. The school offers two elective classes for students who want to further engage in STEM. An aerospace and astronomy course is offered to eighth-graders, and sixth-grade students are offered a "mission specialist" class, which incorporates NASA topics with language arts, science, math and technology.

Students have researched NASA and STEM careers and interacted with scientists, pilots, engineers and astronauts, including NASA test pilot G. Warren Hall, Gemini and Apollo astronaut Richard Gordon, and space shuttle astronaut Bonnie Dunbar. Gordon flew two space missions: Gemini XI in 1966 and Apollo 12 in 1969. Dunbar is a veteran of five shuttle flights between 1985 and 1998 and is currently president and chief of executive officer of the Seattle Museum of Flight.

The school holds an annual NASA night where students and their families participate in a fun time using NASA- and STEM-related activities. "We found that those have huge impact," Borders said. "We've had wonderful comments from families about the connections, spending time with their kids and engaging in fun activities. Our families and students are the best in the state!"

One of their district's goals right now is improving students' mathematics performance, so schools are looking for new ways to engage students in math. "The NASA program supports that, and it offers a way to engage kids in STEM," Border said. "Everything that we use the NASA project for is in alignment with our mission and focuses on impacting student achievement."

The school has expanded its outreach, and teachers are taking their experiences on the road. Math and reading teacher Kathy Tucker-Patton got a feeling for microgravity when she flew in a reduced-gravity aircraft with a student experiment. She now visits area schools telling students about her experience and encouraging schools to get involved in NASA research.

On a recent visit to another school in central Washington, Tucker-Patton shared her story with fourth-graders, engaging them in microgravity demonstrations. She talked about not only her reduced-gravity flight, but also about all of the NASA opportunities Key Peninsula has become involved with.

After the presentation, students commented that Tucker-Patton's demonstration made them more interested in science and in working for NASA someday. Some students said they want to be astronauts and go to the moon or Mars, and others said they were excited to learn about rockets. The presentation inspired students to think about doing science, too. One student said, "I am wondering, if you are on a roller coaster and it goes down, are you in microgravity?" Another commented, "One of the most important things I learned is that it takes a lot of planning, thinking and practicing to make a good experiment."

Borders said students at Key Peninsula feel the same way and comment often on how the project has impacted them. After a visit by NASA test pilot G. Warren Hall, eighth-grade student Felicia said, "I liked being able to study about somebody and then actually meet him. In most schools you don't get that opportunity. That's why I love being a NASA Explorer School -- you get to meet people who are really successful."

Related Resources
NASA Explorer Schools   →
NASA's Wallops Flight Facility
NASA's Johnson Space Center
The JASON Project   →
Lunar Planetary Institute   →
Spaceward Bound   →
Spitzer Space Telescope
NASA's Exploring Space Challenges   →
NASA's Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber
NASA Education Web Site   →

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services