The team from 153rd Street School in Gardena, Calif., examines Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter data.

Teachers follow preparation procedures

Teachers had a blast with the launch of the NASA Explorer Schools program this summer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Sponsored by NASA's Education Enterprise and the National Science Teachers Association, the NASA Explorer Schools program offers educators the opportunity to learn about the many exciting and interactive learning resources the space agency has to offer. The program establishes a 3-year partnership between the space agency and 50 carefully selected teams of educators who represent 30 states across the country. The teams visit NASA field centers during the summer to meet with science professionals and learn about the work at each center.

"This is a completely new program based on a team approach, in which teachers and administrators come together to impact local schools," said NASA Explorer Schools Program Manager Peg Steffen from NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. "The work at JPL is very much team-based, which provides wonderful examples of how teams come together to achieve common goals."

This summer, 18 teachers and administrators from four Los Angeles area schools attended an intensive, weeklong series of lectures and workshops at JPL. Among the things they learned about were the history and goals of space exploration, and how NASA missions develop from start to finish. Substantial time was spent on NASA and JPL educational activities and resources, as well as education issues in California. This included field trips to the Educator Resource Center in Pomona, Calif., and the Mt. Wilson Observatory, just outside Pasadena.

"As a veteran teacher who has not had any formal math and science education for 30 years, I found the information fascinating and stimulating," said Linda Sutherland, a resource teacher at 153rd Street Elementary School in Gardena. "The resource center was, and will continue to be, an invaluable source of materials to implement our NASA Explorer School Program." 

Educators were introduced to resources like the Mars Student Imaging Project, which allows students to command an instrument on the Mars Odyssey via their classroom computer, and the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope project, which lets students control and collect science data from a Deep Space Network antenna.

The group also enjoyed a special opportunity to connect with the International Space Station through NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., for a question-and-answer session with astronauts Ed Lu and Yuri Malenchenko. Such exciting events were mixed with discussion sessions throughout the week, allowing the participants to process information and talk more about how to inspire the next generation of explorers.

"Make no mistake, the JPL staff worked us to the bone. It seemed as if we received two weeks' worth of information packed into one," said Jodie West, a 6th-grade teacher from Washington Middle School in Pasadena. "The long hours were worth it because now we are armed with so many projects to stimulate the interest of our kids in the subject areas of math, science and technology."

To maximize the impact on a broad range of students, more than half of the teams selected to participate in the program were from high poverty and minority areas. NASA plans to expand the NASA Explorer Schools program by 50 schools each year for an ongoing three-year cycle of 150 schools.

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