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Lessons Taught in the Classroom Come Alive Aboard Reduced-Gravity Flights
JSC2013e024157: Reduced-gravity flight

Teachers from six NASA Explorer Schools soar and test experiments for their classes during a reduced-gravity flight. Credit: NASA
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It is commonly known that teachers have the ability to change a student’s life. NASA has always been a huge supporter of teachers and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Throughout the years, NASA has developed many programs and curriculum for educators to incorporate into the classroom that is hands-on, fun and bring to life the words in a textbook.

One program in particular is NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program, which enables students and educators the opportunity to successfully design, fly and evaluate a reduced gravity experiment of their choice aboard an aircraft that flies 30 rollercoaster-like climbs and dips to produce periods of microgravity. Teachers gain valuable knowledge about how microgravity affects common science concepts important to student learning.

The most recent reduced-gravity education flight included teachers from six NASA Explorer Schools (NES), a classroom-based gateway for students in grades four through 12 that focuses on stimulating STEM education. Teachers from each school were selected for their great contributions to education and helping to increase interest in STEM among young students.

“There is power in an educator taking their reduced-gravity experience and sharing that passion and thrill of science with their young scientists and engineers,” said Veronica Seyl, Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program Manager. “Critical thinking skills, collaborative program solving and technical knowledge are now seen through the eyes of their teacher.”

On Monday, April 8, the selected NES teachers arrived at Ellington Field, a training facility for NASA’s astronauts, in Houston to prepare and test their experiments. Mountview Road School from Whippany, N.J., was one of the schools selected for the flight.

JSC2013e024125: Teachers with yo-yo

One experiment aboard the reduced-gravity aircraft studied the behavior of a yo-yo in microgravity conditions. Credit: NASA
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During the flight, Mountview teachers tested five experiments, two of which were provided by NASA, and three additional experiments that were designed by their students. The experiments included evaluating the properties of mass versus weight as they tested various samples in an inertial balance, whether a yo-yo remains extended in microgravity and how the second hand of a watch behaves in microgravity.

“The Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program is a one-of-a-kind experience,” said Drew Burns, a fourth-grade science teacher at Mountview Road School. “With the yo-yo experiment, we learned that microgravity causes it to remain extended. We also learned that microgravity does not affect the normal behavior of a watch’s second hand. The results and data gathered onboard could not be duplicated in the classroom.”

Now, teachers will collect the data and receive a video of them performing the experiments to take back to the classroom for teaching science concepts.

In an effort to cultivate the next generation of astronauts and engineers, it is critical for educators to develop new ways to engage students in STEM. The Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program offers educators a unique experience that may improve classroom instruction and raise student interest in science, math, space exploration and NASA.
Ciandra Jackson
NASA's Johnson Space Center