Sharing NASA With NASA
A student stands beside a screen on which students can be seen using a glovebox

Students from North Ridge Magnet School presented a video showing their research using a glovebox. Image Credit: North Ridge Magnet School

"I know for sure now that I want to work for NASA!" "JPL and NASA rock!" "I wish I would have been doing things like this when I was a kid -- I would be smarter by now."

Those comments were student reactions to the Southern California NASA Explorer School Student Symposium, which NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., hosted.

Teams of students and teachers from five NASA Explorer Schools in the areas served by JPL and Dryden attended the symposium. The participants shared the results of scientific investigations they had conducted in school.

The NASA Explorer Schools project supports the incorporation of NASA content and programs into science, technology and mathematics curricula in classroom grades 4-9 across the United States. While targeting underserved populations in diverse geographic locations, NASA Explorer Schools bring together educators, administrators, students and families in sustained involvement with NASA's education programs. The project supports NASA's major education goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, disciplines.

Students at the schools participated in multidiscipline, inquiry-based investigations related to NASA research and careers. Teachers used the NASA focus to give students' lessons real-world application and to make them more engaging.

At the symposium, teams of four students from each school explained their investigations and had the opportunity to tour facilities at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After the tours, several students commented that they wanted to work at the NASA center when they grew up.

Students from Lake View Elementary, in Huntington Beach, presented their research on California watersheds and tied their findings to similar patterns found on Mars. The students hypothesized that related processes caused the similar patterns. Students from North Ridge Magnet School, in Moreno Valley, called themselves the "Stream Team" and shared about water streams in microgravity. Their studies involved research conducted in a reduced-gravity aircraft flight in which the school participated through a NASA Explorer Schools opportunity. Students from Ellen Ochoa Learning Center, in Cudahy, shared about rocketry. Students at Mesa Union School, in Somis, shared their experience conducting experiments with Cartesian divers and explained the resulting findings about buoyancy and the ideal gas law.

Students from Vintage Math Science Technology Magnet School, in North Hills, presented information about their work with basil seeds that were flown on the STS-118 shuttle mission. Schools were able to receive the seeds through a NASA Engineering Design Challenge. In the challenge, students researched how to build a chamber in which plants might be grown on the moon. John Rome, the principal of Vintage Magnet School, said that his students' work with the basil seeds was inconclusive but that the students won respect for their willingness to say so.

"They compared (the space-flown seeds') growth rate and success to terrestrial basil seeds," he explained. "They reported that their findings were inconclusive because of technical difficulties with procedures of the experiment, including their forgetting to water the plants over one weekend. They were complimented by the JPL scientists for reporting inconclusive findings. The scientists commented that it is often very tempting to make unsubstantiated conclusions about an experiment even if the data is unclear, especially after so much time and effort has been made in the endeavor."

Rome said that the school is looking forward to participating in the symposium again in the future. "The symposium has given a new level of importance to the science work that students are doing at our school," he said. "It places their efforts in a meaningful context and connects the classroom activities with NASA."

Debbie Dunn, a science educator from Mesa Union School, said that her students linked their Cartesian diver experiment with NASA projects involving the principles of density and pressure. The NASA projects they studied included spacesuits, the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory where astronauts train for spacewalks, the underwater NEEMO habitat and an aquatic robot that is similar to what may one day explore Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.

The symposium had many benefits for the participating students and educators, Dunn said. "I was proud of my students and their hard work on their project and their willingness to share it with others," she said. "I enjoyed hearing about the research projects of the students from the other schools, which gave me ideas for possible projects for my students. And I saw ways that my students could have improved their presentations, and I will advise future students based on that information.

"Our school has a strong commitment to the importance of students' being acquainted with the work of scientists, speaking to real scientists through class visits by scientists, science career days, video-conferencing with scientists. The experiences of these four students at the symposium have gone beyond them. They have shared what they learned and experienced with their schoolmates. Other students look forward to the opportunity to attend a NES student symposium."

Guillermo Munoz, of the Ellen Ochoa Learning Center, said that his students, "the Rocket Boys," based their model rocketry propulsion work on NASA's Ares rockets that will be used to return to the moon. The students even donated one of their rockets to JPL, where it is currently on display. Munoz said that not only was the symposium an inspiration for him, but being involved in the NASA Explorer Schools project has made a big difference both for him as a teacher and for making science, technology, engineering and mathematics greater priorities at his school.

Related Resources
NASA Explorer Schools   →
NASA Engineering Design Challenge -- Lunar Plant Growth Chamber
NASA Reduced Gravity Flight Opportunities
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Education Gateway   →
NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center Education
NASA Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory   →
NASA Spacesuits and Spacewalks Site for Educators
NEEMO -- NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services