The NASA Explorers School program began in 2003, to address the growing need to prepare and motivate students to enter math and science related careers.
The program helps transform classrooms into an interactive science research laboratory.
“Every day, NASA does the business of discovering new planets outside of our solar system, we have astronauts living and working aboard of the International Space Station everyday and we are planning missions to Mars and near Earth asteroids in the future so science and math really is exciting and the lessons that students learn in middle school everyday are the same ideas that we apply in our research and we want to connect back with middle school students to show them the excitement, importance and value of this work,” said Rob Lasalvia, project manager.
The NASA Explorer Schools program is open to any school in the country. The free program focuses on students in 4th-12th grades.
School administrators or teachers can apply on-line and only need a computer and Internet access to participate.
More than 800 schools nationwide are involved in the program, five are in West Virginia: Piedmont Elementary in Charleston, Mt. View Middle School in Welch and Tucker Valley Elementary school in Hambleton. Washington Irving Middle School in Clarksburg and Washington District Elementary School in Buckhannon, were recently accepted into the program.
“We get to talk to these scientists at these different NASA sites across the country. When we have a special topic, if we are studying fossils, if we are studying propulsion, the planets, they have all of these different persons who have the expertise to work or talk with our kids specifically about the problems or their concerns,” said Steve Knighton, principal at Piedmont Elementary.
Last month, Sen. Jay Rockefeller visited Piedmont Elementary to talk about the importance of math and science education in preparing students for careers in the fields. Rockefeller is Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
The school used video conferencing equipment it purchased through a grant from the program to showcase its capability to connect live with a scientist involved with the International Space Station.
Knighton said the program has generated a new interest in math and science at the school.
“Parents are excited, teachers are excited, kids are excited and every month, we have a science day where every classroom comes to the gym and they have a science experiment that they show to the rest of the school and we have the technology that would broadcast that through closed circuit or through the Elmo projector, so it is just really cool how science has permeated the building,” he said.
The NASA Explorer Schools program also provides training opportunities for teachers outside of the classroom, including summer education sessions where teachers can participate in NASA research at field centers across the country.
To learn more about the opportunities available through the NASA Explorer Schools program, click here.