With an ultimate goal of drawing more students to careers in science and related disciplines, NASA has announced the creation of a nationwide network of teacher-mentors charged with helping inspire the next generation of explorers.

Attended by 22 award-winning teachers from K-12 classrooms across the United States, the Airspace Systems Education Cohort (ASEC) convened July 19-22 at the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field near San Jose, Calif.

Now in its second year, the ASEC program uses a train-the-teacher model of professional development to engage participants in scientific inquiry at the leading edge of education and technology. Educators who take part in the intensive four-day program are then encouraged to return to their communities in efforts to bolster the quality of science instruction in their schools.

This year, two ASEC alumni from the 2005 class–James Nair and Gary Dewey– returned to NASA Ames to help conduct the seminars and act as mentors to the program’s newest members.

“After attending tours, lectures, and workshops at the ASEC Summer Institute, the 20 teachers [returned] to their educational communities to train others in the use of NASA-developed classroom materials,” said Liza Coe of the Education Division at NASA Ames.

While studying at Ames, the teachers interacted with program scientists, engineers, and associated educational programming in airspace systems and aeronautics. Upon completing the program, each participant received year-long access to materials such as NASA educator guides, stickers, posters, and CD-ROMs for classroom and workshop distribution.

Several of these interactive, multimedia programs, developed for the Airspace Systems Educational Cohort by NASA, can be found online at http://quest.nasa.gov.

By equipping a select group of educators with certain specialized skills, NASA hopes to prepare these teachers to return to their communities and share their newfound knowledge with colleagues and students, the agency said

As part of their training, ASEC educators participated in an activity called “Smart Skies,” a physical simulation of air-traffic control issues, according to Coe. In once such exercise, ASEC educators played the roles of air-traffic controllers and ground controllers, working out distance rates and time problems throughout the simulation.

“They had to walk at a certain rate, maintain certain length footsteps, and things like that,” Coe explained. The hope is that teachers will take the activity back to their schools and bring their students to a playground or gymnasium to repeat it, she said.

Other ASEC exercises included computer-based lessons on aeronautics aimed at children in grades 4-6. Educators also discussed the basics of aeronautics, toured NASA aeronautics facilities, and held discussions with NASA scientists and engineers. “[We] try to help them establish a relationship that continues past the actual event,” Coe explained.

A significant portion of time this year was spent in helping educators gain a deeper understanding of the materials they teach, as well as helping them learn how they could incorporate the lessons and activities they experienced during the institute into their curricula, she said.

At the conclusion of the program, participating educators were asked to sign letters of commitment stating they would work toward meeting certain goals, including active participation in the ASEC online community, giving 30-minute presentations to their local teaching communities (such as a staff or department meeting), and conducting hands-on, in-depth workshops for at least 15 educators.

Coe said nearly 70 applicants competed for the opportunity to become part of ASEC this year. The teacher candidates endured a rigorous and competitive selection process, including a review by a committee of NASA researchers, educators, and program managers.

“The teachers selected for the program have an impressive array of skills, interests, and backgrounds that will serve NASA well as they return to their districts,” Coe said. In addition to their own students, the teachers will strive to inform 75 of their colleagues about the new NASA research and educational technology.

The ASEC was created at NASA Ames under the sponsorship of the Airspace Systems Program as part of its commitment to NASA’s mission to “inspire the next generation of explorers” to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. The Airspace Systems Program is a division of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, located in Washington, D.C. The ASEC class of 2006 comprises Ruth Oliver, Owens Cross Roads, Ala.; Eileen Bradford, Covelo, Calif.; David Ewart, Redding, Calif.; Danny Jaques, Ignacio, Colo.; Bonnie Sutton, Washington, DC; Ginger Akason, Waukee, Iowa; Vana Richards, Emmett, Idaho; Joy Reeves, Homewood, Ill.; Brandon Gillette, Shawnee, Kan.; Christy Flynn, Olla, La.; Belinda Jackson, Bogalusa, La.; Sara Conlon, Norton, Mass.; Joanne Letwinch, Shamong, N.J.; Darlene Black, Marlow, Okla.; Kenneth Graupmann, Kadoka, S.D.; Leesa Hubbard, Lebanon, Tenn.; Maureen Adams, Lampasas Texas; Carolyn Bushman, Providence, Utah; Kristy Schneider, La Center, Wash.; Jessica Van Son, Longview, Wash.; James Nair (2005 alumnus), Greenfield Center, N.Y.; and Gary Dewey, (2005 alumnus), Holland, Mich.

Links:

NASA
http://www.nasa.gov

NASA Quest
http://quest.nasa.gov

NASA ASEC
http://quest.nasa.gov/projects/asec/