A Decade of “Out of this World” Teaching & Learning with NASA!

By Barrett Project Discovery Teacher Dr. Laurie Sullivan

Barrett Students Meet Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz AldrinThis school year marks the 10th year of Barrett‘s partnership with NASA. Barrett was selected as the first elementary school in Virginia to become a NASA Explorer School, during the 2005-06 school year. The NASA Explorer School (NES) program was designed to support teachers in implementing STEM into the classroom to inspire future explorers, scientists, engineers and technicians.

“NES believes that by helping to make learning science and math more fun, we can take advantage of students’ natural curiosities and spark prolonged learning,” said Barrett’s Exemplary Project Teacher Dr. Laurie Sullivan. “The NES program allows Barrett to positively and uniquely impact STEM instruction in the nation’s classroom…as only NASA can.”

With funds provided by the NES program, Barrett teachers developed as STEM professionals through opportunities like conferences, such as NSTA & ISTE, working in the field with scientists in Yellowstone, and attending week-long summer trainings at NASA centers around the country. Teachers returned from the professional development sessions excited to share their learning with students and other teachers. After Robotics training at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, two Barrett teachers started a robotics program for students that was funded by Barrett’s partnership with Lockheed Martin.

Kindergarten Flight Suit Astronaut Spacesuit ISSaBarrett students have participated in many hands-on/minds-on lessons designed by NASA and Sullivan, with assistance from NASA Education Specialist Rudo Kashiri. For example:

  • After completing the Orion Exploration Design Challenge, students’ names were flown aboard the test flight of the new Orion spacecraft.
  • Currently, the names of Barrett students are roaming on Mars with the Curiosity Rover.
  • For Hubble Space Telescope’s 16th birthday, retired speech teacher Linda Carter dressed up as Hubble to help the students learn about the instruments, followed by a cake frosted with Hubble’s image.

Over the years, Barrett students have won several NASA national competitions, including the Lunar Plant Chamber Design; the Liquid Waste Recycling Design Challenge; Moon Math Competition; Optimus Prime Spinoff Challenge; and the Spaced Out Sports Challenge, focused on Newton’s Laws of Motion. As a result of earning top honors in these challenges, students presented their research at Kennedy Space Center’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and had their projects implemented by astronauts on the Space Station. In addition, students designed experiments that their teachers carried out in reduced gravity on NASA’s “Vomit Comet” near NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. Barrett students have also had many unique learning opportunities through being a NASA Explorer School. Just a few examples:

  • Astronaut Dr. Roger Crouch and a team from NASA Stennis Center set up experiments and activities for the students to visit throughout the day–imagine building a rocket with an astronaut!
  • Students have video-conferenced with NASA scientists, engineers, education specialists and even the director of the Kennedy Space Center.
  • This year Barrett fifth graders were the studio participants for a Google Hangout with NASA and the UK Royal Institute about the future of human space exploration.
  • Astronaut Leland Melvin inspired students and their families at one of Barrett’s STEM Nights.
  • Students have met famous astronauts, such as Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin, and Sally Ride, the first female American in space.
  • Students have even participated in Astronomy Night at the White House and sat right next to President Obama and his family in the inflatable planetarium.

Donovan Reduced Gravity JetAlthough funding for conferences and $17,500 for technology and science equipment is only provided for the first three years as a NASA Explorer School, Barrett is still considered active in the NES program. NASA education specialists still work with Sullivan to bring high-quality, engaging lessons into the Discovery Lab. In fact, Barrett is being held up as a model NES in a STEM panel presentation for Congress on Fri, June 10. Recently a principal and three teachers from a school in Montreal, Canada, visited Barrett to learn how to implement Barrett’s Project Discovery and NASA Explorer School program. The Canadian principal wrote, “We had the tremendous opportunity to do a Study-Visit with K.W. Barrett Elementary School. Principal Dan Redding and Jessica Kingsley were very welcoming hosts and the entire staff and student population was overwhelmingly pleasant. Laurie Sullivan gave us an in-depth look at the Project Discovery project through the NES program. We were all fascinated by students’ engagement with Laurie’s outstanding lesson on the Analysis of Sand. Most importantly, we were able to witness Second Language Learners grasp extremely complex concepts during this lesson.”

As we approach the 2016-17 school year, Barrett is looking forward to another fabulous decade of teaching and learning with NASA! To see the NASA Explorer School program in action, follow Project Discovery on Twitter @LSullivan. Photos are posted on Flickr.