Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Giving Teachers the Tools to Inspire

Fifth-grade science teacher Sharie Lanning-Lester of Crown Point Elementary in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system participates in a workshop given by Karen Ricks of NASA Langley through the Digital Learning NetworkTeachers found themselves on the other side of the desk this week as they played the part of student, participating in workshops and learning how to get students psyched about science during the second annual NASA STEM Educators Workshop series in Charlotte, N.C.

The three-day free workshop held at the IBM Center consisted of 40 sessions that offered elementary, middle and high school teachers creative and hands-on ways to incorporate NASA content into their classrooms.

For elementary teacher Nancy Brooks from Kannapolis, N.C., it didn't take long to find something that would spark her students' interest.

During a workshop Brooks learned how to make an end effector, which in robotics is the device at the end of a robot arm.

"It only took two Styrofoam cups, string, tape, and a little bit of practice," said Brooks who planned on having her students complete the same project the very next day.

"There are so many resources and activities here that I can take back with me and use to motivate my students to dig a little deeper," she continued.

Dynae Fullwood, aerospace education specialist from NASA's Langley Research Center, said the workshops are specifically designed to give teachers tangible resources for immediate use in the classrooms.

"We know teachers face an everyday challenge to make concepts exciting and interesting for students," Fullwood said.

In the hands-on lab elementary and middle school teachers examined robots and did their best to follow the instructions of their teacher Taunya Sweet, a traveling education specialist for NASA's Aerospace Education Services Project (AESP).

Similar to students, the teachers were anxious to get started and play with their robot.

"Don't touch them," cautioned Sweet. "I know these robots are interesting, but wait until after we observe them to turn them on."

In another classroom, teachers in the video conferencing lab listened as Karen Ricks from NASA Langley's Digital Learning Network discussed "Traveling to Space" over a live digital feed. Just down the hall, NASA exhibits encouraged teachers to make Post Cards from space and find their "space weight."

Tracie Hall, an elementary school teacher from North Carolina, and Garrison Hall, a middle school teacher from South Carolina, work together to program a robot during a workshopThe sessions culminated with a guest appearance from Astronaut Leland Melvin, who only the day before gave an inspiring speech to hundreds of middle school students at the CIAA Education Day, about "living your dreams."

Melvin, who got his start in fiber optic sensors at NASA Langley and went on to become an astronaut with two missions under his belt, appealed to the teachers as a fellow educator himself.

As the co-manager of NASA's Educator Astronaut Program, Melvin travels across the country engaging students and teachers in the excitement of space exploration. He also came from a family of educators. Both of his parents were teachers.

"My dad, the educator, was my role model, my inspiration," he said.

He encouraged teachers to find their own inspiration and to continue inspire and be role models for the next generation.

"We need to keep the kids excited about STEM subjects," he said to a round of applause.

Melvin stressed the importance education played in his life even when he was on track to play football in NFL.

"I always had a back-up plan," Melvin said. "And that plan was education."

A pulled hamstring thwarted Melvin's dreams of playing for the Dallas Cowboys, but his enrollment in graduate school at the University of Virginia kept him on track to realize his dreams, which turned to be helping others find theirs.

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