NASA Contest Challenges Pre-Service Teachers
Paula Tucker-Hogan

Paula Tucker-Hogan, director of the NASA Pre-Service Teacher STEM Program, hopes students gain confidence and experience in teaching math and science from participating in this contest. Image Credit: NASA

Have you ever had a teacher who could transform a typical math class into a room full of scientists and engineers exploring the solar system, designing the next spacecraft or planning a mission to Mars?

Teachers who can engage students in this way are invaluable to preparing America's future workforce. NASA, the National Institute of Aerospace and Hampton University are working with pre-service teachers to develop these skills.

"Many pre-service teachers lack the confidence, skills and knowledge needed to effectively teach science and math at the elementary and middle-school levels," said Dr. Paula Tucker-Hogan, director of the NASA Pre-Service Teacher STEM Program at the National Institute of Aerospace. "They need experience in developing and teaching integrated science, technology, engineering and mathematics, (or) STEM, lessons that are based on the national standards."

To give teachers-to-be that needed experience, NASA is holding its first STEM lesson plan contest, with Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., as the pilot centers.

Around 20 to 30 universities will compete, each selecting a group that has the best lesson from that university.

"The university will decide which of their groups has the best presentation, and that's the one they will submit," Tucker-Hogan said. "It has to be the best of the best."

College juniors and seniors will not only create a lesson plan, but they also will teach that lesson to an age-appropriate group of students. The presentation will be captured on camera.

Universities will be provided with a video digital camera, access to contest-related Web sites, and all the material they will need to develop their lesson plan.

"The students will develop an integrated, inquiry- and standards-based science, technology, engineering and mathematics lesson," Tucker-Hogan said.

An "integrated" lesson incorporates multiple subjects in the classroom rather than focusing on one topic at a time.

"We want lessons that encourage students to solve problems like engineers do. And in solving the problem, they use science, technology, engineering and mathematics," Tucker-Hogan said.

To prepare for the contest, students will visit Langley and Marshall on Feb. 26 for a day of training to learn how to develop their lesson plan. To reach a larger number of students, NASA is taking advantage of the Digital Learning Network, a system that offers live videoconferences. Using the DLN enables students and faculty who cannot travel to the NASA centers to take part in learning and preparing for the contest.

After the training session, students will create lesson plans, capture their teaching session on camera and then place it on a Web site for the judging.

"Faculty ambassadors" from all over the country will judge the contestants' videos, and the winners will be announced on Thursday, April 23, at an all-day event with a motivational speaker and tours of Langley and Marshall.

The first place winner's university will receive a $1,000 prize, with second place receiving $750 and third place $500. This money will assist the universities in providing needed equipment for their programs.

Tucker-Hogan hopes the students and their faculty advisors will gain more than money from this contest. The goal is also systemic reform.

"We want the pre-service teachers to learn how to effectively teach integrated STEM lessons so they're not in their classrooms just teaching science and just teaching math but integrating science, technology, engineering and math all together," she said.

"If we can build confidence enough in our teachers to go into their classrooms and be skilled at teaching math and science using technology, then we've done our job."

For more information about the lesson plan contest and NASA's Pre-Service Teacher STEM Program, visit http://nianet.org/pstp/   →.

For more information, please visit the NASA Education Web site.

Emily Outen/Langley Research Center