The Workshop on Sharing the Adventure with the Student began with an introduction by NASA Science Mission Directorate’s (SMD’s) Kristen Erickson, a keynote address by John Mather, and a panel discussion among the four NASA SMD science education forum leads to provide the workshop participants with an understanding of the current state of NASA SMD’s science education efforts and plans.
Kristen Erickson, NASA Science Mission Directorate
Marc Allen, deputy associate administrator for research of NASA SMD, introduced the first speaker for the workshop, Kristen Erickson, who is SMD director for science engagement and partnerships. Allen explained that the administration’s recent initiative to consolidate education within three agencies in the federal government prompted SMD to develop “a better and more efficient internal structure for our program, to align the education activities at the science theme level and less so at the individual mission level.” Allen added that the associate administrator for SMD, John Grunsfeld, directed that they consolidate “education and communications within SMD’s executive office to improve the integration of education across theme lines to better coordinate education with communications, and to increase the visibility of both within the agency.”
Erickson explained why NASA is restructuring how SMD runs its education programs. NASA has developed a large and substantial education product portfolio, often as a result of individual space missions until recently being required to spend 1 percent of their budgets on education and public outreach. Erickson stated, “In the past 20 years on average, NASA Science has about 100 missions in development, in operation, or in extension. That supports about 100 or so different education teams funded in those missions.” Erickson explained that such a large number of teams has made coordination difficult, and NASA wants to more effectively and efficiently connect with educators.
Erickson noted that one factor driving changes in how the agency approaches education is that the overall U.S. population has evolved over the past few decades. She also acknowledged that NASA is just one small part of the $600+ billion spent on education in the United States.
Erickson explained that the final text of the Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) will be released after January 1, 2015, and that NASA will hold a pre-proposal conference to answer any questions that potential proposers
may have. “We use the cooperative agreement process so that you can propose what you’re good at,” Erickson explained. “You don’t have to do the entire amount. If you are strong in one science discipline, please only propose to that. If you’re currently on a mission in education and you know the scientists, you know the science; maybe you should lead a team.”
Erickson outlined their objectives: “Enable STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education. Improve U.S. scientific literacy. Advance national education goals. Leverage these efforts through partnerships,” she said. “If these objectives sound familiar, it’s because most of them were informed right here in these hallowed halls. All four of the recent NASA science decadal surveys addressed these objectives, the recommendations that were generated right here by the NRC [National Research Council].”
“We’re also looking into a service that the Discovery class missions and Explorer class have adopted, which is a teaming website. This is a service that folks that are looking to team on our effort can go to see what skills are available or what skills they need,” she added.
“What advice do we have for those that want to join us in this noble endeavor?” Erickson asked. “You are encouraged to think anew. If you are looking to propose to this CAN to promote your mission or your instrument, please do not. If you are looking to propose to this CAN to extend your [education and public outreach] grant for the next 3 years, kindly refrain. That’s not what this endeavor is about. It’s bigger. There’s more at stake. If you really want to help us make a difference in this country’s science education, propose to your strengths. You do not have to address every objective in the CAN.”
She finished her talk by clarifying what needs to be done, encouraging proposers to use the cooperative agreement process to propose what they’re good at. “Or, through this teaming website, you can reach out to others that may have like interests. We are not looking for one-offs. We’re not looking to sprint. This is a long-term endeavor,” she said.
John Mather, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Growing Up a Scientist
John Mather of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics gave the keynote address for the workshop (Figure 1.1). Mather explained his background and how it influenced him to become a scientist. “In my family we have seven teachers and three scientists,” he explained. Mather said that he grew up on “a farm in northern New Jersey where dairy cattle research was being done,” he remembered. “And there were also scientific labs with liquid nitrogen and Geiger counters and chemistry and scales and all kinds of stuff because people wanted to know how to get more and better milk from cows. It’s more or less a solved problem these days, so this farm is no longer operating as a research farm. But it was a place for me to hear about science. I heard about cells and genetics when I was about six.” It was called the Rutgers University Lusscroft Farm, which he referred to as the “site of early nerds in Sussex County, New Jersey.”
Mather said that although he thinks this environment contributed to him becoming a scientist, he also wonders if it is somehow hereditary, considering all the teachers and scientists in his family. He went to public schools but was often sick, and so he had time to read and think at home. There was a bookmobile where he lived, and he read every science book that he could. “I always knew that I was a little different from the other kids. I knew that I didn’t know why.”
“I had lots of toys. I think this is something not every kid gets access to. Little mechanical toys, erector sets, chemistry sets, lenses to make telescopes, all those things I had when I was small.” Being on a farm also meant that he was outdoors a lot, which gave him the opportunity to explore. He was exposed to geology and fossils and built forts and dams. Because his family was near New York City, he could go to museums such as the American Museum of Natural History, but also art and archeology museums. “Around the house there were hammers and drills and saws and nails, and all kinds of things that you can hurt yourself with. And I think that’s pretty important for kids to have access to such things. Adults [should have access] too, to tell you the truth. I’m still growing up.
FIGURE 1.1 John Mather speaking at the workshop. SOURCE: Harrison Dreves, NRC.
I still enjoy looking around outdoors, seeing the geology of the world, driving through the countryside and seeing the layers of rocks and thinking about the history of our Earth.”
Mather participated in science fairs starting in the fourth grade. He also attended summer camps, National Science Foundation summer schools in mathematics at Assumption College and physics at Cornell University. He eventually attended Swarthmore College and University of California, Berkeley.
Emphasizing the value of learning by doing, Mather said, “Nobody told me how to do my job when I got to NASA. They just said, Here, try it. And, Go to these meetings, and people will help you, and we’ll all think together. And, golly, didn’t it work! I don’t think anybody could write you a book about how to be a project scientist or anything else that I’ve done in life.”
Creating the Framework
Mather noted that several years ago he was asked to work on the NRC committee charged with developing a framework for K-12 science education,1 which he said was an eye-opening experience for him. According to Mather, education standards have both good and bad aspects. The good is that they can indicate areas for improvement and help to celebrate learning. But if badly implemented, Mather said, then they can also mislead on how to improve, force “teaching to the test,” “destroy all genuine curiosity,” and discourage students by comparison
1 National Research Council, A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2012.
to others. They can also “replace mastery with memory”—short-term memory. Finally, he stated, they can “waste our time and money and bore everybody to death.”
Mather expressed dismay that most state science standards do not encourage hands-on learning. Students learn by doing. He joked about having standards of cooking. Students could memorize the cookbook and take a quiz. Or they could eat the cookbook. Neither would make sense. Instead, like science, the best way to learn cooking was to actually do it. “Cook something real and eat it! And try again tomorrow,” Mather suggested. “If we had standards of bicycling . . . we couldn’t really learn to ride a bike by reading a book. Instead, get a bike and try it out.”
Mather said that students need to be encouraged to have a passion for learning about everything, both in and out of school and among all ages. Students need to have curiosity about the human-built world and the natural world. Mather would also like to see a joy of discovery and pleasure of accomplishment. All of this would help with preparation for adulthood, employment, community engagement, and parenthood. “Joy [of learning] is so important. Isn’t it what propels students? I think we would all like kids to come out of school saying, ‘Wasn’t that fun? I’m glad I went. I want to keep on learning,’” Mather said.
Enchantment! Adventure! NASA!
As to the role that NASA could play in science education, Mather proposed that it could be summed up as “Enchantment! Adventure! NASA!” NASA can both engage and share the news. But Mather also noted that it is the risks that NASA takes that make the agency exciting. Mather said, “The risk makes it important. We risk a lot in our NASA programs, and once in a while people die. But the public pays attention partly because of that, believe it or not.”
Mather said that there are many ways that the agency can provide the necessary engagement. They include team competitions at robotics and science fairs. “Life is a team sport from beginning to end,” Mather said. NASA can also provide storytelling, tying science to daily life and culture. NASA can do inspiring things. “That’s our job,” Mather added. In addition, the agency can share the news via traditional media, social media, personal contacts, and visits. NASA can also partner scientists with educators to create real-world STEM materials and experiences for students. Again, he stressed that people learn by doing, even in reading and math. He mentioned Dean Kamen and FIRST Robotics and David Christian and Bill Gates’s “Big History Project” as examples of recent efforts to engage students in hands-on activities in engineering and science.
Mather is currently the senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope mission, and, as an example, he also showed some photos provided by the Space Telescope Science Institute of students building models of the telescope. Some of these models, he noted, are edible (Figure 1.2).
In response to a question from the audience, Mather considered a question that underpinned much of the discussion during the 2-day workshop: How can NASA support science education when there are only a few thousand scientists and engineers at NASA but 50 million students? It is not possible to directly reach all of those students, Mather noted, and teachers are the access. The key is giving teachers the opportunity to do science themselves. They need to experience the scientific process so that they can communicate it.
A member of the audience pointed out that there are many impediments to teaching science, including people who have an anti-science agenda. But Mather responded that anti-science agendas have existed since the Renaissance. Both Galileo and Magellan faced opposition, he noted.
Mather added that learning by doing is the opposite of learning from a book. He suggested that maybe the standard for learning should be that you should do something rather than describe it.
Mather thinks that NASA provides the way in for students. He noted all of the things that make NASA attractive to students. The agency makes materials based on science, engineering, and math. “People want to be like us,” he concluded.
FIGURE 1.2 Upper: Artist impression of the James Webb Space Telescope. Lower: Student model of the telescope’s hexagonal mirrors. SOURCE: Upper: Artist conception courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corporation; Lower: Courtesy of the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The first panel of the workshop introduced the breadth of NASA SMD’s educational activities. The panel consisted of four representatives of different education and science institutions who also lead NASA education forums:2
- Heliophysics Forum—Laura Peticolas, University of California, Berkeley
- Earth Science Forum—Theresa Schwerin, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
- Planetary Science Forum—Stephanie Shipp, Lunar and Planetary Institute
- Astrophysics Forum—Denise Smith, Space Telescope Science Institute
Science and Science Education Go Hand-in-Hand
Denise Smith of the Space Telescope Science Institute noted that NASA is tackling fundamental questions in science. Materials from the Hubble Space Telescope are being extensively used, and scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute are working with educators. “As we’ve already heard this morning, two of the ingredients that are fundamental and central to every student’s [development],” she said, “are the educators that they encounter and their family—the people that shape them along the way. For that reason, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and the programs discussed here today work very closely with those educators and those families.” Smith added, “We partner with a variety of formal and informal education organizations that are also working with and supporting those education and family audiences. And, as heard in today’s introductory remarks, NASA has that ability to inspire and provide exposure to STEM with amazing role models and amazing science content.” Smith explained that SMD’s science covers a range of disciplines. “The Science Mission Directorate spans the disciplines from Earth science to heliophysics to planetary science to astrophysics. The Earth and space science missions are tackling those fundamental questions: How does the universe work, where did we come from, are we alone?”
Smith continued that because of its breadth, SMD can have influence on different areas of science education. “The search for life and the conditions for life, what we learned by life on Earth, how the Sun interacts with the Earth and influences life on Earth, and the search for life in the solar system and beyond—all those spark fundamental curiosity in our students and make them want to explore,” Smith told the audience. “SMD has been fundamentally working to share that science, to share that story, that adventure, with students, educators, and the public.”
Smith said that “scientists bring unique expertise to the table, as do educators. The scientists know the science, they know the STEM career paths, and they work with the data. The educators are critical in the process of working with the scientists to translate the science to the classroom.”
A Nationwide, Coordinated Community of Practice
Laura Peticolas of the University of California, Berkeley, explained that it is important to reduce duplication and to share best practices. She said that NASA needs to align its products to national education standards. “In the last 5 years or so, we have been working to reduce duplication across the nation. We now have a good sense of who is developing, for example, an activity on magnetism so that we’re not developing 20 different magnetospheric activities. We have solid activities on comets. No one needs to develop any more comet lessons at this point.”
Peticolas added that “we do make sure that our communities align their work to national education standards so that when the principal walks into the teacher’s room and asks what they’re teaching, they can address at least those standards, and often the local standards, which, of course, are more important for many of those teachers and school districts.”
2 NASA, “Science Education and Public Outreach Forums,” last updated February 6, 2013, http://science.nasa.gov/researchers/educationpublic-outreach/science-education-and-public-outreach-forums/.
Putting Research into Practice: Curriculum Support Resources and Professional Development
Stephanie Shipp of the Lunar and Planetary Institute discussed the current state of practice for curriculum support resources and for professional development:
Curriculum support brings together, again, those teams of education specialists and SMD scientists to create materials that augment classroom learning, not specifically to design full curriculum but to find places where NASA science intersects with curriculum learning and where we can enhance and support learning by the students and by the teachers. Often this is done in partnership with educational groups, such as Lawrence Hall of Science. [Curriculum support] brings together many of the missions and programs and individuals across the community so they can collaborate and focus on the larger questions, and, as Kristin [Erickson] said in her opening talk, not necessarily focus on specific missions or instruments.
We always involve the students and the teachers in the development of curriculum material. Everything is driven by needs assessments in the educational literature, but also we have educators on the development team helping to make sure that the right decisions are made in the way things are presented.
Shipp also referred to another subject that would be addressed later in the workshop, the role of evaluation. She said,
Evaluation is woven throughout from the beginning, the needs assessment, through pilot testing, field testing, and impact assessment at the close. Scientists on the team help ensure scientific accuracy. We also make sure that evaluations are aligned with educational pedagogies so that we meet the teachers’ needs in the classroom, and make sure that [the evaluations] are tied to the National Science Education Standards. Once the materials are developed, they go through a NASA product review, then a SMD product review—where a panel of experts reviews the materials for relevance to NASA, scientific and educational accuracy, and alignment to the national standards.
After materials are created, they then go through further review, and once they pass that review, they are disseminated through our partners and our educational networks. They are also disseminated on NASA Wavelength, which is SMD’s digital library of products that have passed review. There are over 2,000 products in SMD’s portfolio of reviewed materials [on Wavelength]. (See Box 1.1.)
Shipp repeated John Mather’s comment about the small number of engineers compared to the large number of students. The goal is to “train the trainers,” she said. “We only have a limited number of scientists; we only have a limited number of engineers. They all have day jobs, they can’t go into every single classroom, but this is one method that may allow us to leverage those scientists and engineers in teams with the educators to train a core of master teachers and to build capacity and multiply the effect.”
Collaborations, Partnerships and Evaluation
Theresa Schwerin of the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies discussed the importance of partnerships. “Partnerships have been developed over many years,” Schwerin explained,
These are very deep, very impactful partnerships, and they range over a broad spectrum of audiences from the Girl Scouts to groups serving very specific audiences such as the National Federation of the Blind. One partnership in particular is Earth to Sky, an interagency program with NASA, National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. NASA Earth scientists and climate scientists work with interpreters and with NASA educators to help those who are on the frontlines with the public and with schools talking about climate science. This partnership has reached over 4 million visitors.
Schwerin reiterated that evaluation is a key part of all educational activities. She referred to an evaluation that compared students’ performance with the standard curriculum to their performance after using NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM)-enhanced curriculum. She said testing indicated that both groups tested equally
NASA’s Wavelength Website for Educators
NASA Wavelength1 is a digital collection comprised of resources for educators, ranging from elementary to college level, focused on Earth and space science (Figure 1.1.1.). When speakers referred to the Wavelength during the workshop, they generally meant the website that hosts the collection, although the term refers to the entire collection. Wavelength was developed by a team from the following entities: the Adler Planetarium, the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Space Sciences Laboratory, some of whom participated in this workshop. Science Mission Directorate (SMD) funding resulted in the development of these resources, which undergo a peer-review process. Peer reviews are sponsored by SMD and include both scientists and educators who ensure the high quality of NASA education products and give feedback to the developers of the products.2 Resources on the NASA Wavelength website include data and images as well as “strandmaps,” which illustrate concept connections and demonstrate concept building across grade levels.3,4
2 Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, “NASA Earth and Space Science Education Product Review,” https://www.strategies.org/education/nasa-product-review/, accessed January 15, 2015.
FIGURE 1.1.1 NASA’s Wavelength website for educators makes available a substantial amount of resources. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies.
immediately afterwards, but 6 months later, the GPM group members had better retention of what they had learned. This evaluation showed that learning science in context is more meaningful, Schwerin stated.
The audience members asked a number of questions. One asked, What is the next great challenge? The panelists responded that the coming year is a transition year. There is going to be a big change in how science standards are taught nationally as the NGSS are adopted by more states.
Another member of the audience noted that NASA’s Wavelength site is not on the agency’s homepage. There was some discussion among the panelists about the site’s accessibility. Some commenters suggested that Wavelength is easy to find with a search engine like Google, and most educators start most of their searches that way rather than going to NASA’s homepage. This issue of access to NASA’s materials via the Internet came up several times during the remainder of the workshop. Additionally, an audience member mentioned that the Wavelength site has a heterogeneous selection of materials, commenting that he searched for “Keplerian orbits” as an example but found nothing. Continuing to search, he looked for “orbits,” and this search returned only pointers to a DVD by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. The audience member said, “Teachers need support in what they are required to teach, and we need to be able to reach out massively, even more [than what is on the Wavelength website].”