ests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; curriculum and instruction; and professional development as a framework against which to compare NASA K-12 projects. This expert knowledge was critical for the committee analysis because of the limitations of existing project evaluations. These limitations are not unique to NASA but are reflected across many federal science agencies involved in STEM education: see the report of the Academic Competitiveness Council (U.S. Department of Education, 2007a); also see Chapter 5 for an in-depth discussion of evaluation.

From its analyses of individual projects, the committee identified three areas in which NASA can improve the quality of its K-12 education program: project design and improvement, use of expertise in education, and the connection to the science and engineering in the agency. Before presenting our analysis, we lay out the frameworks that guided that analysis.


From its review of research and the members’ expertise, the committee identified three major topics that connect to NASA’s program goals and encompass most of the activities of the constituent projects: developing interest; curriculum and instruction; and professional development for teachers. For each of these topics, the committee identified major conclusions that can be drawn from the research evidence regarding principles for best practice. In the following section, we briefly review these principles, which are then used as a framework for the critique of the constituent projects.

Developing and Sustaining Interest

Inspiring, engaging, and sustaining the interest of teachers and students in STEM subjects is one of the main goals of NASA’s current education program, and is one of the greatest contributions that NASA can make to K-12 STEM education. The excitement generated by space flight and exploration puts NASA in a unique position to draw teachers and students into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and related fields. However, of equal importance to the need to attract the interest of teachers and students is the need to sustain that interest over time and to link it to meaningful science content.

Substantial research has been done on the development of students’ and teachers’ motivations and interests, with some attention to how to design learning experiences that are both engaging and that result in real learning. In this research, “interest” is defined as both a positive feeling for science and the predisposition to continue to engage in science (Hidi and Renninger, 2006). Interest, in this sense, includes the stored knowledge, stored values, and feelings that influence the engagement, questioning,

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