Text Size

NASA Pilot Projects Help Teachers Take Flight
A woman standing on a runway launches a model rocket

Teachers built and launched their model rockets.
Image Credit: NASA

High school teachers from around the country came to NASA during the summer of 2011 to participate in two new pilot projects that provided them with different types of flight experiences. The new pilot projects, developed at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, give high school educators flight experiences through the use of sounding rockets and scientific balloons. Teachers can use what they learned to excite their students about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students will be able to see real-world applications of STEM in the work force.

The Wallops Rocket Academy for Teachers and Students, or WRATS, pilot project exposed high school teachers, first virtually and then in person, to NASA's sounding rocket engineering and science data collection. WRATS was managed in partnership with NASA's Teaching From Space Education Flight Projects Office.

A rocket launches

Teachers participating in the WRATS project watched a Terrier-Orion sounding rocket launch.
Image Credit: NASA

Teachers received resources about rocketry to use in their classrooms to better incorporate STEM content into their curriculum. They built and launched model rockets at the Wallops airfield. Teachers used NASA's Educators Online Network, or NEON, to collaborate with each other throughout the pilot. Educators who participated in the pilot developed and shared lessons with other members of the team. The project culminated with their having actual flight experience with sounding rockets. Teachers not only learned about flight dynamics in the WRATS pilot but also about the importance of safe flight operations. Educators rounded out the experience by viewing a Terrier-Orion sounding rocket launch held near the end of June.

The 21 teachers participating in WRATS represented 12 states. All the educators agreed that the experience will help them to engage more actively with their students in STEM content and will enable them to include more NASA content in their classrooms.

The second project, the Wallops Balloon Experience for Education, provided high school educators with an opportunity to fly experiments on scientific balloon flights. The project was managed in partnership with NASA's Teaching From Space Education Flight Projects Office with technical assistance from the Louisiana Space Consortium.

People stand in a field launching white scientific balloons

Teachers designed experiments and launched them in high-altitude balloons.
Image Credit: NASA

WBEE consisted of teams of educators selected to visit the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, for a week-long workshop in July 2011. The teachers participated in classroom and hands-on balloon science activities. They then were given the opportunity to build and test their own science payload for a flight to the edge of space.

The WBEE experience culminated with the launch of the educators' payloads aboard a NASA scientific balloon. After this amazing summer project, educators adapted the content to implement it at their home schools for future flight opportunities and to encourage the aspirations of their STEM students.

Of the experience, teacher Laura Wommack from Potlatch, Idaho, said, "I gained a lot of practical ideas about STEM education and how to implement them into my science curriculum. ... A lot of the general content I've learned through NASA has turned my ninth-grade physical science class into many students' 'favorite class,' not an easy thing in this age group."

A picture of a yellow box high over Earth

The balloons floated into the atmosphere. Some were equipped with a camera.
Image Credit: NASA

The 31 high school teachers who participated in WBEE represented 15 states. As with the WRATS project, all the educators agreed that the experience will help them to involve students more actively in STEM and to bring more NASA content to the classroom. It is hoped that the WBEE project will be carried into the 2012 time frame.

The educators participating in the projects will reach an estimated 4,750 students across the country. Both of the projects continued NASA's investment in the nation's education programs by supporting the goal of attracting and retaining students in STEM disciplines critical to future space exploration.

Related Links
Wallops Education Flight Projects
NASA 360: Wallops Flight Facility
NASA's Teaching From Space
NASA Educators Online Network
NASA Offers Students and Teachers Flight Experiences
Students and Educators Attending NASA's Rocket University
Heather S. Deiss/NASA Educational Technology Services