Space Act Agreement launches student interest in STEM

Posted on Thursday, 1/16/2014 6:01 PM

To continue increasing student interest in the subject areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the U.S. Department of Education partnered with NASA in June 2013 to pilot a Space Act Agreement that would allow students to study STEM areas through the use of NASA content. The program was successfully completed Jan. 13 as students and industry officials gathered to celebrate its success.

Piloting the program
The collaborative project, which launched in the fall, incorporated NASA content into both the schools' curricula and the Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers. These centers offer extracurricular academic enrichment programs for students outside of classroom hours, particularly for pupils who attend high-poverty or under-achieving schools. These programs fused the NASA programs with their STEM initiatives, including online challenges and supplemental curriculum material. Through the use of student software, children were able to further their STEM education in three participating states: Colorado, Michigan and Virginia.

The program highlighted three design challenges for student completion throughout the course of the initiative: a simulated parachute drop on the surface of Mars, a protection system for astronauts and flight equipment against radiation, and the creation of a recreational activity for astronauts aboard the International Space Station, which has a microgravity environment.

Student presentations
For the past few months, students in three states have been working with mentors to successfully complete one of the challenges. After developing projects that met specific guidelines, students created short videos detailing their plans and inventions. These videos were sent to a team of NASA educational experts and upon reviewing each entry, they chose four submissions to show at the Jan. 13 event based on the criteria of student creativity, the design process and data analysis. The four finalists included two teams from Michigan, one from Colorado and one from Virginia.

The half-day event took place at NASA's headquarters in Washington. Experts and industry leaders met to discuss the success of the program and how it could be further integrated in the educational system across all 50 states. The Federal Committee on STEM education believed the initiative to be a success after the completion of its two goals: increasing student interest in STEM and implementing successful collaboration between federal agencies and STEM programming. 

NASA continues to promote STEM education
While this program marked the first successful completion of a joint education program between the U.S. Department of Education and NASA, the aeronautical organization has a history of implementing successful educational programs for students across the country. One such program, Smart Skies, was recently awarded the 2013 Dr. Mervin K. Strickler Award for Aerospace Education Leadership. This middle school mathematics program teaches students to properly understand, investigate and resolve air traffic problems through the use of interactive experiments and games. NASA reported their air traffic simulator website has seen more than a quarter million student visits, and the Smart Skies program team has trained more than 3,000 educators in its use.

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