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Tomorrow’s Teachers Hone Skills at NASA’s Pre-Service Teacher Institute
Participants from PSTI working together. Click image for full resolution.
Working as a team was one of the first things participants learned at the PSTI.
Image credit: NASA Ames Research Center / Dominic Hart

PSTI participants learned to work together. Click image for full resolution.
Participants of PSTI work together.
Image credit: NASA Ames Research Center / Dominic Hart

This summer, forty students came to NASA to learn how to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. Click image for full resolution.
This summer, 40 students came to NASA to learn how to teach science, technology, engineering and math subjects.
Image credit: NASA Ames Research Center / Dominic Hart

Student teachers from minority-serving institutions are discovering ways of motivating and engaging young students to learn math and science. They are attending a two-week summer workshop, as part of NASA’s Pre-Service Teacher Institute (PSTI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Pre-service elementary and middle school teachers have been coming annually to Ames since 2004. As part of the program, they are given the opportunity to meet NASA personnel and tour world-class research facilities. In the classroom, they learn about NASA missions and how to include them in lesson plans. To do this, they learn hands-on activities designed to increase their skills in teaching mathematics and science. This summer, for the first time, Ames has expanded its PSTI program for returning alumni as PSTI Plus participants.

“Many of our students are first generation college students who have learned English as a second language. PSTI gives these students the skills needed to teach math and science effectively and develop confidence with the subject matter,” said Steve Price, director of Community-Based Learning at California State University (CSU), Fresno. He also is the principal investigator for the PSTI program at Ames.

PSTI and PSTI Plus have 20 students each who have come to NASA to learn how to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. As part of its culture, NASA relies on teamwork and teambuilding techniques as some of the first things students learn. By working together, they learn to rely on each other, collaborate to resolve issues, and see themselves as a resource for problem-solving.

“The team building activities really force people to talk to and get to know each other,” said Ashley Edwards, a kindergarten teacher from Gulfport Elementary School at St. Petersburg, Fla. and is a returning student.

“Team building helped me feel like I belonged to a group; it helped us bond. We helped each other learn the materials,” said Cristina Bueno, an education student at CSU, Fresno.

Often times it is a benefit to know others, which is why NASA pooled its education resources to develop creative and instructive STEM materials for teachers at all levels of professional development. As an example, a common problem among teachers is keeping the attention of their students. To help solve this problem, PSTI distributes instruction materials that demonstrate hands-on activities to attract and engage students. It can be as simple as flying a paper airplane.

“I learned to use a paper air plane to demonstrate science principles and math. I have come back to the program to learn more hands-on activities. They are a very effective way of teaching 10-year olds in a classroom,” said Ernesto Hernandez, a fourth grade teacher at Strathmore Elementary School, Calif.

“I did a third-grade lesson plan on temperature and heat transfer. I used stryrofoam cups filled with hot and cold water. A metal spoon was used to stir the liquids, and when the spoons were taken out of the cups, students were able to feel the temperature change,” said Edwards.

“Today, I learned a hands-on activity to teach scale and ratios to students. We used a topographic map of craters showing elevations. We scaled it to a smaller size,” said Camila Reyes, a student at California State University Stanislaus, Turlock, Calif. Reyes also is a math major and wants to teach high school students someday. She lives in Modesto, Calif. and will be the first certified teacher in her family.

For other students, teaching will be a second career. “I was an elementary school librarian for five years. I liked working with third graders. That age is a good transition age. I am learning various teaching techniques to hold their attention and keep it,” said Ben Vega, a student from the National Hispanic University, San Jose.

“As a child, I thought all girls had to be secretaries. But then, a teacher told me that I could be anything I wanted to be. I wanted to be a teacher. PSTI has broadened my life experiences, given me options and resources to be a good teacher,” said Melina Bravo, a kindergarten teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, Dinuba, Calif.

The summer workshop is a partnership between NASA and CSU Fresno. “The goal is to introduce students to problem-based teaching in science and mathematics, integrating the latest resources and technology,” said Price. NASA’s materials and resources can inspire today’s students to become the problem-solvers who will address tomorrow’s major challenges.

“NASA’s Pre-Service Teacher Institute is a significant step towards arming our newest teachers with the tools they need to accomplish their job,” said James Busby, acting education director at Ames. “NASA will be able to fulfill its mission only if the nation’s educational community helps to inspire and support the next generation of scientists and engineers.”
Ruth Dasso Marlaire
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.