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Starting Young

Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The elementary school student wondering how El Niño will affect tomorrow's weather. The scientist studying connections between ozone and climate change. And the farmer using satellite pictures to keep track of crops. All of these people are Earth Explorers -- they are all curious about the Earth system. This series will introduce you to NASA Earth Explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

Students from Drew Freeman Middle School holding certificates they received from the Minority University-Space Interdisciplinary Network.
How are animal species affected by urban growth? Do hurricanes cause more severe damage than tornadoes? How do forest fires affect animals?

Image to right: Students from Drew Freeman Middle School receive certificates for taking part in the NASA Student Involvement Program. The certificates were awarded by the Minority University-Space Interdisciplinary Network. Credit: NASA

These may sound like questions for college students or adult scientists. But these questions were actually studied last school year by middle and high school students. The students were taking part in the NSIP Watching Earth Change competition.

NSIP stands for the "NASA Student Involvement Program." NSIP is a national science competition for students in grades K-12. Students can work in teams, as a class or individually.

NSIP has six different competitions. They involve science, math, technology and geography skills. In Watching Earth Change, students use NASA data and information to study how Earth is changing.

The questions above were studied by students from Drew Freeman Middle School and Duval High School in Prince George's County, Maryland. They worked with their teachers and special science mentors to complete their projects.

The mentors were part of a program sponsored by NASA's MU-SPIN. MU-SPIN is the "Minority University-Space Interdisciplinary Network." This network helps minority students to become Earth Explorers.

Phil Sinsky managed the mentor program. He says that NSIP is different than normal classroom science work.

"It allows students not only to learn about science, but actually to do science," Sinsky said. "It also helps students learn to communicate more clearly and effectively."

Michael English is a science teacher at Drew Freeman. He says that NSIP also taught his students the importance of teamwork.

"Because they worked in groups, each individual member held the other member responsible for their part," English said. "The students began to take ownership, and responsibility emerged."

To answer the questions, students looked at satellite images and climate statistics. They read articles on the NASA Web site. And, they researched facts and information elsewhere on the Internet.

The students did some of their work after school. But some work had to be done during the regular school day. That meant having to miss other classes, like math or English, every once in a while.

But the other teachers didn't mind this since they knew the students were doing some of the same type of work they would have done in class. For example, they may have missed a math class, but they used math in their projects.

Are you interested in NSIP? Tell your teacher to check out the NSIP Web site. It explains the different competitions and how to enter.

See previous Earth Explorers articles:
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Related Resources

NASA Student Involvement Program (NSIP)
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Minority University-Space Interdisciplinary Network
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Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies