|Moderator||Richard McCray, Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley|
|Speaker||Edna DeVore, SETI Institute|
|Panelists||Beth Johnston, Principal at Endeavour Elementary School
Mordecai Mac Low, American Museum of Natural History
Cassandra Soeffing, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
Belinda Wilkes, Chandra X-Ray Center
Edna DeVore, SETI Institute
Edna DeVore of the SETI Institute gave the address to begin Session 2. She reminded the audience of the NASA Science Mission Directorate vision for education:
To share the story, science, and the adventure of NASA’s scientific explorations of our home planet, the solar system and the universe and beyond through stimulating and informative activities and experiences created by experts, delivered effectively and efficiently to learners of many backgrounds via proven conduits, thus providing a return on the public’s investment in NASA’s scientific research.
DeVore then explained that the federal government’s National Science and Technology Council created a 5-year strategic plan that established five priority science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education investment areas:1
- Improve STEM instruction;
- Increase and sustain youth and public engagement in STEM;
- Enhance STEM experiences for undergraduate students;
1 Committee on STEM Education, Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education 5-Year Strategic Plan, National Science and Technology Council, Executive Office of the President, May 2013, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/stem_stratplan_2013.pdf.
- Better serve groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields; and
- Design graduate education for tomorrow’s STEM workforce.
Each of these investment areas has specific goals. For instance, improving STEM instruction has the goal of “preparing 100,000 excellent new K-12 STEM teachers by 2020 and to support the existing STEM teacher workforce.” NASA’s involvement in that goal includes projects such as the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors.
DeVore stated that there are 67,000 elementary schools and 25,000 high schools with a total of approximately 50 million students. There are 1.7 million elementary school teachers in the United States, including 18,000 science teachers and 32,000 math teachers. There are 1.7 million high school teachers—209,000 science and 250,000 math.
NASA education programs have to “think nationally, yet serve state and local needs,” she said. She added that sending a few scientists and engineers into classrooms cannot solve the problem, because it does not reach enough students. There are 60 times as many science teachers as there are scientists and engineers at NASA. DeVore said there is a need to match the scientists and their expertise to what the school requires, and scientists often fail to recognize that. She mentioned that she once received a phone call from a scientist who wanted to produce a lesson on solar seismology for third graders—the scientist did not understand what was suitable for third graders.
One of the ways to scale up, DeVore said, is to work through big partnerships, such as with publishers. An example of a partnership is the Full Option Science System (FOSS) Planetary Science middle school module. This is a kit-based course, with a hard copy teacher guide, student materials, plus web-based resources. Working with the publisher, Delta Education, the Kepler Observatory’s education and public outreach program provided information for the newly revised course. DeVore said that the FOSS curriculum is used in all 50 states by more than 100,000 teachers and 2 million students and is in approximately 16 percent of the nation’s school districts. It is adopted in 50 of the 100 largest urban school districts and reaches large populations of underserved students.
DeVore also noted that there is a digital divide based on household income: poorer students do not have access to computers or bandwidth. At schools, there are 3.1 students per computer. As an example, she noted, the U.S. Census indicated that 77.4 percent of white (non-Hispanic) households have Internet access, but only 61.3 percent of black and 66.7 percent of Hispanic households have Internet access. There is a significant divide based on income, with lower income households having significantly less Internet access than higher income households. DeVore said that the digital divide adds to the challenge of sharing NASA’s stories.
DeVore concluded by saying that NASA education can make a difference, but it has to leverage partnerships to maximize reach and impact, and it has to “be attentive” to the standards, including the Framework, the NGSS, and state standards. “There will always be the need to have the big view but the local application,” she said.
Beth Johnston, principal at Endeavour Elementary School, Kaysville, Utah; Mordecai Mac Low, curator and professor in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History; Cassandra Soeffing, K-12 science education specialist at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies; and Belinda Wilkes, director of the Chandra X-Ray Center, joined McCray and DeVore for the panel discussion.
The organizing committee developed the following guiding questions to provide focus to the panel discussion:
- How do the instructional strategies advocated for in the NASA education programs match the Vision for Science Education described in the NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education?
- How can NASA best encourage and support teachers to use NASA education resources in the classroom?
- What is the mechanism by which NASA education programs’ instructional content material will be aligned to the Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?
- How will NASA programs measure how well NASA Education and Public Outreach materials align to the NGSS?
- Information technology is changing the way science is done (data mining and simulations, for example)—What new possibilities does this development raise for the science classroom?
Wilkes was the first speaker. “I’m the director of the Chandra X-ray Center, so I’m here as a science provider, a source of content,” she said. Wilkes believes that there is a bigger societal image problem that they all face. “We need to change the perception of STEM,” she said. “Instead of being nerdy, it needs to be cool and fun. And we need to start that at a young age. It is not something that is scary; it is something that is around us all the time.”
One possible way to do this is to give teachers hands-on opportunities to see how interesting and fun science can be, Wilkes said. “Get teachers interested in science, and then when they go to the classroom, they’ll be more engaged and try, and learn. If the teachers are really engaged in teaching the science, they will impart that excitement to the students as well,” she explained.
Johnston joined the discussion by saying that her school has a space theme throughout, even extending to its architecture. It is “a physical environment that breathes science,” she explained. This environment affects the students’ attitudes. “And they love space. Every one of them,” she said. “They love science. In fact, our goals are always tied into that.” One of the school’s guiding philosophies is called “Mission MARS. And MARS stands for Math, Accountability, Reading, and Science,” Johnston explained. “Every student knows our goals for the year. Every parent knows them. And every bit of resource that we have is funneled into those goals.”
The school’s work extends beyond simply classroom instruction. “We have a summer space camp. We have after-school robotics. We have an incredible ‘month of space,’” Johnston said. “We have ‘visions of the universe’ panels that we share with other schools. We have a planetarium that is portable that our kids get to go inside.” Every area of the school is named after a galaxy, Johnston added.
Johnston noted that Utah has the lowest per capita spending on students in the United States,2 which forces her school to seek out partnerships with local businesses and other organizations. The school has grown substantially, from 450 to 1,130 students in only 4 years. Yet despite this substantial growth, it is a top performing school.
Soeffing then spoke. “I’m from Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” she explained, which happens to be close to the Earth Resources, Observations and Science (EROS) Data Center. Soeffing said that she learned about the data center when she was a teacher and decided to get in touch with it, becoming part of an activity for teachers known as the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program. “The GLOBE Program took us out to the EROS Data Center and showed us what Landsat data was like. I had a chance to learn about remote sensing and image processing. I brought it back to my classroom. I taught sixth grade science kids how to do remote sensing. They were totally amazed,” she said.
But despite this opportunity, Soeffing’s school faced many difficulties with keeping students engaged. The school has a high leave rate because many students return to the nearby Indian reservation. She noted that in particular, many girls in her school took naturally to math and science but then left the school and no longer had the ability to engage in the school’s science programs.
Mac Low was the next speaker. “I’m a research astrophysicist mostly working on numerical simulations of star and planet formation. I’m also a professor in and one of the leaders of a Master of Arts and Teaching Program that we’ve started at the museum focusing on Earth and space science in New York State middle and high schools,” Mac Low said. He finds that these two perspectives collide.
Mac Low said that it is difficult to bring teachers and scientists together. “NASA education is someplace where teachers meet scientists,” he said, “and that collision is not always pretty.”
Mac Low also criticized NASA education materials. “Providing an activity, which is the predominant thing I find on NASA websites, is not a lesson plan,” he said. Teachers are pressed for time. “The impedance barrier between a working teacher, who has a 40-minute prep period to prepare the next several days of lessons, and the NASA portal is high. If I go to NASA Wavelength, it’s a little bit better,” he acknowledged.
Mac Low stressed the importance of intensive teacher education: “Teacher education is expensive because it involves a lot of hands-on experience. To get teachers to become excellent science teachers, they’re going to need to do some science. That needs to be infused into teacher education programs.” Mac Low said that they are trying to do that with their own program. “We’re giving them science experience and science content, but that is expensive. Costs start to be like other professionals’ training costs. Lawyers and doctors are intensively trained.
Teachers need to be intensively trained if we expect them to be able to work as highly qualified professionals, which is what I think our kids deserve,” Mac Low said.
One audience member suggested that NASA has been producing a lot of educational materials, but it has been chaotic. It may take a teacher a long time to sort out the good from the bad. Another commenter suggested that NASA could take on interns who intend to be teachers.
Johnston said that she had asked the science teachers in her school district how NASA could better support them. The most common response was that they wanted to know “what NASA is doing today.” They are overwhelmed with curriculum and really need a short lesson plan and materials. A participant from the audience responded that the “Astronomy Picture of the Day” and “This Week @NASA” already provide the information the teachers were requesting.
A member of the audience from the Space Telescope Science Institute noted that relationships take a long time to nurture. He explained that they have developed relationships with newspapers over a long period of time so that when they produce a press release, the newspapers trust its accuracy. He suggested that the same long-term relationship is required for universities, publishers, and other partners. He asked whether the changes, and the upheaval it can have with the relationships, make them nervous.
Mac Low replied, “It does make me nervous, because I think that the sorts of relationships that allow NASA to really best serve the education community—K-8 and community college, for example—those kinds of relationships take a long time to develop so that the individuals representing NASA content are trusted partners. It also takes a long time so that the people on the other end—the audience that NASA is aiming at—are aware of what is available. And there is a potential for an abrupt change. I am concerned that folks who have not worked on any of the NASA Science Mission Directorate education content over the past 20 years will put in a proposal for a radically different kind of education program, and what has been developed will be abandoned,” he said.
An audience member then asked the panel, “How do your teachers find curricular resources that they would like to use—as an actual principal talking with your teachers?”
A member of the panel replied, “When we designed [the NASA Wavelength website], we did a lot of front-end work looking at user needs and how people search for and find resources and found most people use search engines. Part of the design of Wavelength is open to bring in traffic. And just under 40 percent of its traffic comes directly into specific resources via search engines like Google, bypassing www.nasa.gov.”
An audience member commented about the idea of teachers being educated and trained at the level of doctors and attorneys. Teachers are being paid $30,000 to prepare students for $80,000 jobs, and as NASA designs learning environments and educator professional development, it is critical to keep the teachers’ environment in mind and to raise this discussion to the national level, he said.