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NASA STEM Educators Workshop Series
More than 200 teachers got the chance to discover more about NASA and how to use NASA missions and resources to excite students about science, technology, education and math -- or STEM -- during a series of free workshops in Charlotte, N.C.

Highlights from the third annual NASA STEM Educators Workshop Series was held March 1-3 at Whitewater Middle School in Charlotte, N.C.

Educators at the third annual NASA STEM Educators Workshop Series, held March 1-3 at Whitewater Middle School, explored hands-on activities that they could easily incorporate into their classrooms.

One workshop had teachers working in groups in a parachute design challenge. Using materials such as paper, pipe cleaners, paper bowls, trash bags and string, they had to design and test a parachute that would safely land on the ground. Each team had miniature foam astronauts that were a part of the parachute's "payload." The more astronauts they lost on the drop test, the more points they lost.

Science specialist Wayne Fisher discusses the Hot Air Balloon design challenge with teachers Shufang Cao and Melissa Butts
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Science specialist Wayne Fisher discusses the Hot Air Balloon design challenge with teachers Shufang Cao and Melissa Butts. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Tammy Lundy, a teacher from the Richland School district in Columbia, S.C., watched as her team dropped their parachute from the top of the stairs down to the first floor. It wasn't the flawless descent she was hoping for, but she was just happy to be a part of the workshop.

For her, the free training is a great opportunity since her school system is reeling from budget cuts.

"We are really limited as to what we can do," Lundy said. "This is great because I get to see what information is out there and find new and exciting ways to get kids involved."

The teachers also learned about NASA multimedia resources they can incorporate into their lesson plans.

"Seeing the new technology and understanding how to use video clips in my classroom is wonderful because things are changing every day and textbooks can't keep up," Lundy said. "And we want to give our students the most current information."

The workshops introduced teachers to subjects like hydroponics, Mars missions, Lego robotics, podcasting, vodcasting and modeling and simulation among many others.

"It's great to go to school and I've got all kinds of wonderful things to take back to the classroom," said Grace Brown an educator at Barringer Academic Center in Charlotte.

"There are so many people here to answer your questions and of course the activities are wonderful," added Melissa Butts, a lead science teacher at J.W. Jones Elementary in Wilson, N.C. "They will be so easy to bring back into the classroom."

Though most of the teachers were from North Carolina, one teacher will travel a little further to share her NASA lessons.

Chemistry teacher Shufang Cao worked diligently with Butts designing a hot air balloon out of tissue paper. Cao, who is from China, is teaching in North Carolina as part of a six-month exchange program offered through the Chinese Ministry of Education. While in the United States, Cao said she wanted to take advantage of as many opportunities as she could.

"There is so much information here, and I will of course take all the NASA information back to my students in China."

Amy Johnson
NASA Langley Research Center