Volume 9, Number 4 July/August 2001 Cover Story
NASA’s Role in Education
Exploration, discovery and the pursuit of new knowledge and achievements are the parallel goals of NASA and the educational programs of the United States. NASA strives to reach its goals through a number of programs developed for teachers and students in all age ranges. NASA’s contribution to education has been and is based on the Agency’s inspiring mission, specialized workforce, close working relationship with the research and development community, and unique world-class facilities. Based on these unique attributes, NASA has created a comprehensive Education Program containing a portfolio of activities directed toward education at all levels—elementary, middle, secondary, community college, undergraduate, graduate and postdoctorate.
NASA’s educational programs, projects and activities are all made up of three components: the content, which is based on the NASA mission; the customers, which are the formal and informal educational communities; and the program category, which is the manner in which NASA education activities are provided to the customer.
The fundamental component of any NASA educational activity is the content or knowledge derived from the NASA mission. At the Agency level, this knowledge is the outcome of the NASA mission as defined by the five strategic enterprises: Aerospace Technology, Human Exploration and Development of Space, Earth Science, Space Science and Biological and Physical Research. The role of NASA’s Education Program is to add value by translating this content to meet customers’ needs.
The customers for NASA’s education products are the formal and informal educational communities. At the kindergarten through 12th-grade levels, content derived from the NASA Strategic Enterprises is tailored to meet customer needs and guided by national, state and local curriculum standards for science, mathematics, technology and geography. At the postsecondary levels, customers are directly involved in and support NASA’s mission needs. The informal education community targets both K–12 and postsecondary levels, and includes science and technology centers, museums, planetariums and other nonprofit education organizations.
Six categories make up the NASA education program and define how the content is delivered to the educational community: teacher/faculty preparation and enhancement; curriculum support and dissemination; support for systemic improvement of education; student support; educational technology; and research and development.
NASA has developed educational programs for students at all levels, in a variety of fields of interest. Following are examples of some of the many opportunities available to students through the NASA Education Program.
LEARNERS Program Aids Students
“NASA has an obligation to education,” says Dr. Shelly Canright, Manager for Education Technology. The knowledge derived from NASA’s research from exploring the Earth, solar system, the space environment and aeronautics must be provided in useful and transferable media and shared with the educational community so that it might be used to meet specific needs and interests. Among the electronic media used by NASA are videoconferencing, Internet, video and CD-ROMs. NASA offers a suite of electronic products to the educational community. From the Emmy Award-winning video and Web series NASA CONNECT to the audio- and text-based Web chats and video Web casts offered through NASA Quest, NASA is committed to assuming a leadership role in supporting educational excellence and involving the educational community in its endeavors.
During the 2000–2001 school year, sixth- and seventh-grade students at the Ann Street School in Newark, New Jersey played hosts to a group of NASA scientists who had been invited to the school to learn about a student research project. The students began their presentation by explaining to the guests how certain birds, including the eagle, osprey and sandhill crane, migrate along seasonal flyways during the spring. Through the use of NASA satellite data available on the Internet, the students had tracked and recorded the birds’ migratory behavior.
The students are part of a growing group of student scientists who are learning the wonders of the Earth and sky, thanks to a NASA-funded effort called Leading Educators to Applications, Research and NASA-related Educational Resources (LEARNERS). Led by the Learning Technologies (LT) Project, part of NASA’s Educational Technology Program, the funded LEARNERS projects are trying to enhance K–12 science, mathematics, technology and geography education in classrooms and informal learning environments across the country.
LEARNERS programs focus on using Internet-based tools to deliver content from various NASA missions. It is a unique cooperative program that links students and teachers with NASA resources and experts. A wide variety of Web-based educational technologies delivering content related to NASA’s missions will be demonstrated by seven programs that are in various stages of development at six universities and one independent research laboratory.
“As a government agency whose output adds new information to the pool of human knowledge, NASA hopes the inspiration and intellectual excitement inherent in the Aeronautics and Space Program will enrich many fields,” says Mark Leon, NASA’s LT Project Manager.
“Fields of study that stand to benefit from this program include social science, life science, physical science, mathematics and technology,” Leon says. “So the cooperative agreements we have signed with LEARNERS participants are two-way streets. NASA also benefits through new blood and new ideas by everyone involved with LEARNERS.”
Additional information on LEARNERS projects can be accessed at http://learners.gsfc.nasa.gov
Pilot Undergraduate Research Program Begins
The first group of students is participating in the new Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP), another element in NASA’s continued commitment to educational excellence and support for academic research.
USRP attracted more than 1,100 applications from undergraduate students around the country. Some 100 students representing 70 of the nation’s colleges and universities—and fully representative of America’s rich diversity—are participating in
An essential objective of this program is to address the need to increase the nation’s undergraduate and graduate science, engineering, mathematics and technology skill base. In particular, USRP will provide undergraduates with challenging research experiences designed to pique student academic interest in these fields and disciplines. The program is intended to encourage continued student career interest aligned with NASA’s research and development mission.
“We are extremely pleased with the response to this pilot program. The caliber of students who competed for these hands-on research assignments was extraordinary. And, we must commend the research communities at our NASA Centers for their very deliberate efforts to help this program achieve its goals,” said Frank Owens, Director of the NASA Education Division.
The Virginia Space Grant Consortium of Hampton, Virginia provides national coordination of the USRP pilot program.
The education programs NASA offers are designed to inspire America’s students, create learning opportunities and enlighten inquisitive minds. By utilizing its unique resources, NASA is supporting educational excellence for all. Q
For more information, contact Frank Owens, Director of the Education Division, NASA Headquarters, 300 E. Street SW, Washington, DC 20546-0001, or visit http://education.nasa.gov Please mention you read about it in Innovation.