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NASA Celebrates Summer Learning
Children in white T-shirts perform for an audience

Beth Nielsen Chapman leads Nashville area SoI students in a rousing rendition of "The Moon." Image Credit: Vanderbilt University/Brassil
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On June 21, 2012, NASA marked the first full day of summer and National Summer Learning Day with a special program of activities held at Vanderbilt University Dyer Observatory in Brentwood, Tenn., just outside Nashville.

This is the third year that Dyer has been a partner in NASA's Summer of Innovation project, a national effort to engage middle school students in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education activities during the summer school break. Leland Melvin and David Weaver, NASA associate administrators for education and communications, respectively, joined the students at Dyer Observatory for a day of learning and fun.

The rising 5th - and 6th - grade students participating in Dyer's SoI camp June 18-22 performed many hands-on science activities, took a field trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and learned about living and working in space from Melvin. In addition to his role as the head of NASA education, he is a former two-time shuttle astronaut who flew on missions to the International Space Station in 2008 and 2009.

Leland Melvin speaking to Nashville students

Leland Melvin shares his experience of living and working in space with Nashville students. Image Credit: Vanderbilt University/Brassil
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"The enthusiasm and natural curiosity displayed by these students was contagious," said Melvin. "When we take NASA-themed content and use it to inspire kids to pursue STEM studies, it's a win-win situation. They enjoy learning and we’re helping to cultivate America's future scientists, engineers and technicians."

Dyer Observatory director Rocky Alvey is leading another SoI camp June 25-29, this time for Nashville-area 7th - and 8th - graders.

A variety of SoI programs and activities are taking place at NASA centers and partner institutions across the nation this summer, but the event in Music City had a special treat for the participants and guests. Following the hands-on science and engineering exercises held during the day, there was a special concert performance of "The Mighty Sky" by Beth Nielsen Chapman and The Long Players. "The Mighty Sky" is an educational project that features a CD filled with astronomy-themed songs and associated lesson plans designed to spur students’ interest in learning about their universe. All of the compositions were written by Chapman, Alvey and award-winning songwriter, Annie Roboff.

Chapman and The Long Players, all Nashville-based musicians, took the stage outside Dyer Observatory and began to perform selections from "The Mighty Sky." About a dozen of the SoI campers lent their voices to some of the songs, including "The Big Bang Boom," about the beginnings of the universe.

Musicians perform outdoors before an audience

Beth Nielsen Chapman and The Long Players perform songs from "The Mighty Sky" near the dome of Dyer Observatory. Image Credit: Vanderbilt University/Brassil
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"As an artist and songwriter for 30 years, I've always been fascinated by the power of songs in our lives. Working with Rocky and Annie, "The Mighty Sky" was born with its many musical stylistic hats and hooks and deeply rich nourishment for the brain. It has been a blast to create, and it is truly a thrill to see how kids inhale the knowledge while having so much fun!"

Midway through the evening, Melvin took the stage and shared with the audience his personal journey from curious youth, to NFL draftee, to scientist, to astronaut, and now devoted champion of STEM education. He even joined the band for a little improvisational entertainment.

The evening concluded with a few more musical selections and a huge round of applause from the more than 300 attendees. As an added bonus, Dyer opened its telescopes for views of Saturn and other objects in the night sky.

From beginning to end, the partnership between NASA and Dyer showcased the intent of Summer of Innovation: to find fun and engaging ways to inspire today's students to reach higher and become the next generation of explorers.

Related Resource:
› NASA Education

Ann Marie Trotta/NASA HQ Public Affairs Office