Since the early 1960s, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been developing and disseminating free educational resources for Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade educators. These resources are usually attached to a mission or science objective relevant to NASA at the time of their creation. In recent years, NASA has made a move from a focus on print-based resources and cookie-cutter activities to more online, project-based and open ended activities. In this posting, I will survey three of those resources which allow students to use actual NASA data to solve real world problems or do their own studies based on manipulation of the data.
Space Math @ NASA is a set of mathematics problems written for students in third through twelfth grade using NASA missions and press releases as a source of authentic science information and data manipulation. At last check, the site was averaging 35,000 visitors per month resulting in over 18 million downloads of problems. The site is organized for educators to easily search for problems by Grade Level, Space Topic, NASA Mission, National Standards, or NASA Press Releases. Each individual problem is downloadable as a PDF with student pages and teacher pages in the same document. The student pages begin by providing authentic data, images and information about the source and reason for the data collection, then pose three to five questions requiring the students to manipulate the data to find the answers. The Teacher pages are in the form of an answer key with a repeat of each question followed by a fully worked solution including explanations of the logic behind the particular method used to solve the more complex problems. Problems are also grouped by year and topic in PDF problem books which reach across multiple grade levels. In addition to the standard mathematics problems, Space Math @ NASA also provides STEM Modules focused on sixth, seventh, and eighth grades and interactive spreadsheets designed to support more inquiry-based learning. The STEM Modules provide students with a NASA press release, a connected video resource and then a set of problems asking the students to interpret what they have learned from both. The Interactive Spreadsheets are designed to work with MS Office Excel version 2010 or later and allow students to use sliders to experiment with mathematical models for planetary structure, heat flow and rotation among other topics.
Earth Observatory is a science based resource providing images, global maps and feature articles using data from a suite of Earth Observing Satellites. The provided images are presented with scales and explanations for interpretations and are searchable by date, topic and popularity. A new image of the day expands the image database at a regular rate and usually utilizes data collected within a few days of the date of release. The image of the day often gives students a new perspective on major events affecting the Earth such as wildfires, flooding, drought or volcanic eruptions. The main page also includes a section specifically devoted to natural hazards around the world. The global maps are visualizations of Earth Observing Satellite monthly average data sets and may be viewed as static images for specific months or as animations over a time span including the start of data collection to the present day. All images come with a scale and explanation to facilitate student exploration. A very useful feature of the global maps section is the ability to do a side-by-side comparison of data sets where they overlap in time to explore causal relationships. The students are first presented with related maps where the correlation is explained under the animations. If a comparison set is chosen where a direct relation has not been established, the explanation of each individual data set is provided. The feature articles give the students a chance to see how scientists are using the data from Earth Observing Satellites to do research into a myriad of topics. The articles are searchable by topic and year and include special collections such as World of Change, showing change over time; Blue Marble, utilizing composite images to view the entire Earth; Earth at Night, showing man made lighting visible from space in both global and regional views; and Experiments, providing hands on activities using the image sets.
My NASA Data takes the concepts of Earth Observatory a step further allowing the students to manipulate data sets to generate their own visualizations using tools provided on the website or by downloading Excel files and creating their own analysis using the spreadsheet’s tools. Through the Live Access Server (LAS) data viewer students can produce a variety of graphs charts and plots to explore the Earth system using over 200 parameters in atmospheric and Earth science from five NASA projects. The site also offers a large number of lesson plans, created by educators, which guide the students through specific problem-based data manipulations to answer questions. In response to teacher feedback, many of the most popular lessons are being packaged with data sets already pulled from the LAS so that the students may focus on the science question and manipulation of data rather than having to first cull the necessary data sets from the full library of the LAS before entering the scientific data manipulation phase for answering questions. To facilitate use by multiple grade levels, the site also has the option of using a basic Live Access Server or an advanced version. Lesson plans span elementary through high school and include both 90 and 50 minute options to accommodate traditional or block schedules. Another useful component of the website is the Project Ideas tab found at the top of the home page. This tab includes topic specific project examples and tips for completing science projects with a specific emphasis on science fair participation.
Through the use of these three NASA resources, you can give your students real-world research and problems utilizing authentic data from NASA missions. The problems posed correlate directly to National Standards and interweave both science and mathematics showing their interdependence with technology for the analysis of data sets.