Partnering with Hawaii Space Grant to Engage Young Students with Engineering Design and Stories of Navigation, Scientific Exploration and Cultural Pride

On October 26, 2019, the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus in Honolulu was buzzing with activity as almost a thousand parents, students, educators and community members gathered for the 18th annual celebration honoring the life and legacy of NASA Astronaut Charles Lacy Veach. Three auditorium sessions were held in conjunction with more than 20 break-out sessions organized by Marcia Rei S. Nii, Executive Director of the Hawaii Space Grant Consortium and her many partners and volunteers.  

The motivated crowd enthusiastically welcomed Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the first Hawaiian in more than six hundred years to navigate in a voyaging canoe from Hawai‘i to Tahiti without the use of navigational instruments. This morning, he shared encouraging stories of the beauty and science of voyaging and of celebrating the revival of canoe building and traditional navigation throughout the Pacific. Nainoa was visibly moved as he recalled his now deceased great friend, Astronaut Lacy Veach, and his early awareness of the need to care for our fragile planet in order that it remain a life-giving home for humanity.

Later in the day, science teacher turned Astronaut, Joe Acaba, held a lively question and answer session with the engaged audience. He used footage of himself and other Astronauts aboard the International Space Station to demonstrate various phenomenon and to answer questions in detail. Acaba has logged a total of 306 days in space on three missions.

Finally, the NASA STEM Engagement & Educator Professional Development (EPDC) Principal Investigator and research associate professor of engineering education, Dr. Araceli Martinez Ortiz lead a special session for educators. EPDC is coordinated by Texas State University through a cooperative agreement with NASA that is managed through NASA Langley Research Center.    In the session, Dr. Ortiz reviewed the engineering design process to educators, discussed approaches to use to integrate engineering, science, and mathematics and spoke in detail about culturally responsive teaching approaches to encourage all students while valuing their various cultural contributions. She discussed NASA’s Moon to Mars efforts and provided background information on Artemis, Orion and future missions to return to the Moon.  Finally, she encouraged educators to utilize the many educational NASA resources available such as the many Next Gen themes activities and the new NGSS-aligned EPDC badging initiative.

Ke’alohi Sayin and Caroline Porras, Girl Scout Brownies Troop 089 in Honolulu with Astronaut Joe” Acabá at the 2019 Astronaut Lacy Veach Day of Discovery. Image Credit: NASA STEM EPDC / Dr. Araceli M.Ortiz
St, Louis School students in Honolulu pose with pride with Dr. Araceli M. Ortiz, holding their NASA space craft models designed with shock absorbing systems. Image Credit: St. Louis School teacher / Ms. Adria Fung.

Several teachers from around the island of Oahu expressed their appreciation with one noting, “You’ve made me realize that my students have many questions about science but also a lot of insight- I can capture their curiosity and help them learn even more when I give them exciting NASA engineering design challenges. You bet I’ll be trying these in class next week!”

In the following days, Ortiz delivered two additional STEM engagement sessions for over 100 students at an elementary school, featuring hands-on engineering design activities. She held a discussion and Q&A for over 25 students at a High School, sharing guidelines for how to conduct engineering and science research, using NASA examples, and she concluded her visit to Hawaii by representing NASA at the SACNAS 2019 conference, the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural STEM diversity event in the country, attended by over 5,000 students and educators.