In a partnership designed to inspire students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has chosen 25 new schools to join its Explorer Schools program.

The program provides unique learning opportunities intended to engage and educate students about space exploration, with the goal of encouraging and recruiting the next generation of scientists and explorers.

“NASA is committed to encouraging and working closely with our schools to foster learning opportunities that highlight innovative science and mathematics instruction,” said Joyce Winterton, NASA’s associate administrator for education. “Many of the students in the program today will join us and our many partners as the scientists, engineers, explorers, and researchers of tomorrow.”

Part of NASA’s elementary and secondary education programs, the NASA Explorer Schools project looks to attract and retain students in science and technical fields through a progression of educational opportunities for students, teachers, and administrators.

Currently, 200 school teams are involved in the project. The teams represent all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

The program establishes a three-year partnership between NASA and the school teams, which consist of teachers and administrators from diverse communities across the country. Focusing on underserved populations, the Explorer Schools program joins educators, students, and families in sustained involvement with NASA’s research, discoveries, and missions.

Each school team must develop a strategic plan to address its students’ needs in mathematics, science, and technology education. Selected schools are eligible to receive up to $17,500 during the three-year partnership to help buy technology tools and implement their plans. The project also provides educators and students with content-specific activities that can be used in many local and state curricula to excite students about science and math.

To begin the formal partnership, educators and administrators from each team will attend a one-week professional development workshop at their respective NASA Field Center this summer. During the workshop, team members will become familiar with the resources that are available through the project. Representatives from the NASA centers will help kick off the program with presentations at the Explorer Schools in their region this fall.

In the first year of the partnership, an initial needs assessment will collect information about areas of concern for each team to determine the direction and focus for this first summer workshop and follow-up support. The assessment is based on the National Science Education Standards, Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, Standards for Technological Literacy, National Educational Technology Standards, and National Geography Standards.

After a year of implementing classroom and school activities, Explorer Schools educators are invited to attend content-specific workshops. Educators can choose their areas of focus based on the needs of their school’s instructional program, the team’s strategic plan, and their own educational background. In one example, teachers brave the cold to learn how NASA scientists study ice and snow, as well as many different classes of extremeophiles, by spending a week in February with NASA scientists and education specialists in Yellowstone National Park.

The Explorer Schools project is directly tied to NASA’s major education goal of attracting and retaining students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. To compete effectively for the minds, imaginations, and career ambitions of America’s young people, NASA is focused on engaging and retaining students in efforts that encourage their pursuit of disciplines critical to NASA’s future engineering, scientific, and technical missions, the agency says.

“This program enables schools and their communities to partner with NASA to develop the nation’s future science, technology, engineering and mathematics work force,” said NASA Explorer Schools Program Manager Rob Lasalvia. “It is today’s students who will help make the nation’s vision of sending humans back to the moon, then on to Mars and beyond, a reality.”

The Explorer Schools program began in 2003 in collaboration with the National Science Teachers Association. Designed for students in grades 4-9, the program aims to help middle schools improve the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering, and math through significant structural and curricular supports (including professional development, stipends, and grants) based on NASA’s resources.

During the 2006-07 school year, the program served more than 137,000 students, and 6,800 teachers, in 125 schools. Seventy-four percent of the schools are considered high minority, and 86 percent are considered high poverty, said John Entwistle, technology services coordinator for the program.

The Explorer Schools program is a competitive initiative, and schools apply to participate online. The application for the next cycle of schools will be available from mid-September through the end of January 2008. Applicants are typically notified of their status in early April, and in early May, a NASA TV program will formally announce the new cohort of teams selected to be in the program.

Links:

NASA Explorer Schools
http://explorerschools.nasa.gov

List of this year’s winners
http://explorerschools.nasa.gov/portal/site/nes/menuitem.c0b8f939f195b42793ebf770621a5ea0/