NASA Space Exploration Sparks Imaginative Classroom Lesson
PSTI participants
From left to right: Elijah Carrillo, Rosa Benitez, Kelly Hinojosa, Lauren Cargil
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Imagine you are floating in space on a huge NASA spacecraft. You are a member of an outer-space exploration crew, and have just been told by your commanders on Earth to evacuate due to an inbound comet that is on a collision course with your spaceship. You and your teammates have to make rapid decisions for your escape and survival.

Engaging children in a high adventure NASA mission is a lesson that 23 pre-service elementary or middle school teachers were taught to implement at a recent pre-service teacher institute (PSTI) summer workshop at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

At this two-week residential workshop, student teachers were given hands-on activities designed to increase their skills in teaching mathematics and science, while also incorporating technology into the curriculum. Student participants were shown how to incorporate NASA missions and research into their lesson plans. They met with NASA personnel and were given tours of NASA facilities to help them develop and teach a problem-based lesson to children from local schools.

“NASA is pleased to support college students who want to teach science and mathematics to young children,” said Lewis Braxton, deputy center director of NASA Ames. “Space exploration is an exciting way to inspire kids to learn science, engineering and mathematics, and to develop a real love for learning and discovery.”

Ames has been hosting the PSTI program since 2004 for college students preparing to teach in elementary or middle school. This year, student participants represented Hispanic-serving institutions, including California State University (CSU), Fresno, National Hispanic University, San Jose, Calif. and the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

“It was exciting to see PSTI participants fully engaged in developing new skills in science, math and technology to meet the challenges of a NASA-related teaching assignment,” said Steve Price, the principal investigator of PSTI at California State University, Fresno. “NASA Ames is a motivational environment. By allowing students to interact with NASA scientists and engineers in their laboratory setting, the classroom experience becomes more compelling and real.”

This summer, the PSTI program’s theme is space exploration. To initiate the learning process, participants were divided into four groups. Each group developed its own 50-minute problem-based learning lesson. To introduce the subject to a classroom, one group suggested ‘role playing’ to engage students. The suggested scene was going to visit family, but there is only 15 minutes to pack one suitcase for the trip. The teacher asks students: ‘What do we take?’ Other groups suggested showing NASA video to introduce the solar system, comets, asteroids, oxygen, carbon dioxide, habitats, and the body’s vital functions.

“My goal as a teacher is to help students relate math and science to their everyday lives. The knowledge I gained will help me spark my students’ desire to learn,” said Alexandra Hubbard, a student teacher at University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

Once the topic was introduced, teachers moved forward to design the lesson. Most participants agreed to assign students to small groups to develop a process for selecting and prioritizing items brought onboard the escape vehicle. This section is designed to teach students about volume, area, and perimeter using the appropriate units and measurement. Students also are asked to design and build a habitat for surviving on an asteroid until rescued.

Finally, the student teacher groups designed a lesson closure. Suggestions included group presentations, discussions and evaluations of results. Student teachers felt students should be rewarded for their hard work with a Mars certificate.

To date, more than 70 Ames PSTI alumni have successfully transitioned into the classroom or are pursuing graduate studies. CSU Fresno successfully has leveraged the activities and similar NASA content into other post-workshops and activities, promoting an enhanced interest in NASA educational products and programs. Similarly, the National Hispanic University draws upon past PSTI participants to lead workshops on the concepts and materials learned at the Institute.

“PSTI has provided me the necessary tools and techniques to fully develop my skills as a teacher. I’ll use what I’ve learned to help my students succeed in their studies and in their life goals,” said Elijah Carrillo, a student teacher at California State University, Fresno.

“I am walking away with new ways to engage my students,” said Tasheena Robinson, a student teacher also at California State University, Fresno.

To watch episodes of the two-week 2010 PSTI workshop, visit YouTube:


For more information about NASA ESMD home and education web pages, visit:



Related Resources
NASA Pre-Service Teacher Project Description
NASA Ames Research Center
NASA Education Web Site
Inspiring the Next Generation of Teachers
Ruth Dasso Marlaire
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.