As a third grader in rural Georgia, I remember listening as President John F. Kennedy delivered his famous speech on September 12, 1962, stating, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”  It has been noted that President Kennedy made a challenge of what had never been done appear attainable and inevitable – just like NASA does! But it took the United States of America nearly seven years to make this dream come true.  On July 20, 1969, The United States’ Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to land on the Moon.

Now, as a high schooler, I was still dreaming that I could travel and even live in space one day and maybe that dream would come true since we now had the knowledge to get humans to the moon and back.  Then a very traumatic experience happened to me.  I can still remember from my high school days what my chemistry teacher said to me after I presented my end-of the course project, “Why are you so interested in Space?  You are a girl and girls don’t study space – that is what boys do!”  So, then I directed my attention to becoming more interested in what I was told girls should be studying but my favorite interest was still SPACE!   Each summer I got to live out my dream when I went to my Uncle Eli’s and Aunt Eula’s house for a week.  They lived within ten minutes of Cape Canaveral (Known as Cape Kennedy from 1963 to 1973) and my uncle would take me there on his way to work each day where I was actually living my dream.  My chemistry teacher hadn’t taken the time to know that I had been to Cape Canaveral probably more times than he had and he never took the time to ask me any questions about why I was so fascinated about SPACE.


HAZEL at NASA Space Night Booth at the Fresno Grizzlies Ballgame

Last week, when I was working at our NASA Space Exhibit at the Fresno Grizzlies Ballgame in Central Valley California, I was amazed at all the excitement the fans had about SPACE, the Planets, and our Missions.  As people of all ages and nationalities came by our table to see lunar rocks, a rock from Mars, information about the upcoming launch of InSight, and trying out NASA Mars Trek 3D Resources, I was astounded with the knowledge of a 4-year-old girl, that came up to our booth, dressed in her NASA shirt.  She could name the planets in order from the sun and she could tell us something about each one of the planets.  Her daddy was with her and I asked him, “How does she know so much about NASA, SPACE, and the planets?”  He commented that she saw the ad on television and had talked her mommy and himself into coming to the ballgame, just because NASA was coming.  She wanted to touch the rocks from the moon.  She waited patiently in line to do Mars Trek, with the visualization googles.  She was thrilled when she was touching a rock from Mars.

Brian Day, NASA Ames Research Center scientist, Hazel and her daddy at the ballgame!

He went on to tell me about how he spends every Saturday doing a Science Experiment with her and placing the activities on Instagram where some of his followers repeated the science experiment with their kids or grandkids.  His hope is that everyone will share their science knowledge with the younger generation even using social media as an avenue.  Thank you, Brian Day, NASA Ames Scientist and his team for taking time on a Saturday afternoon and evening to share your knowledge with the public.

After the exhibit, I received the following email from Hazel’s daddy.  “It was such an honor to meet you and the rest of the team from Ames, JPL and NASA last night. Hazel now proudly has a NASA sticker decorating her bedroom door. I have a strong appreciation for your mission to help children learn more about STEM. I know that the reason I do science with Hazel every Saturday is to help her know that science is all around her… and that even after she discovers unicorns or boys she’ll at least know how some of this world works.

Remember, anyone can be a teacher of STEM to kids of any age!  According to a new NSF-funded report, “STEM Starts Early,” there’s growing evidence that very young children from all backgrounds — even children from birth to age 8 — learn important science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills and habits of mind from everyday play and early learning activities.

Hazel touching a rock from MARS!

The study concluded that:

1. STEM benefits all children, regardless of their innate abilities or backgrounds; 2. Children are born scientists and need adult support to realize and expand their natural STEM capacities; 3.  Children need STEM immersion as early as possible to gain STEM fluency; and 4. Parent and teacher attitudes are incredibly influential for children’s STEM outcomes.

I bet on May 5, 2018 at 4:00 AM in the morning, I know one four-year-old that will be up watching the historic launching of InSight on it mission to Mars and maybe she will be dreaming about living on Mars one day.  I only hope that her teachers will tell her she is right – she might just be the first person to live on MARS or design the spacecraft that will take us there.  Make sure you are always asking your students to reach for the stars!


⏺ I would like to spotlight two of NASA websites that has perfect resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers of younger children. NASA Kids’ Club |NASA  https://www.nasa.gov/kidsclub/index.html and NASA Space Place https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/

⏺ INSTAGRAM Social Media: sciencesaturdaykids Example from Hazel’s dad.  We had the best time at NASA night at the @instagrizz_fg game tonight! Hazel and the rest of us loved meeting so many great people from @nasa and @nasajpl. We were able to touch rocks from Mars and meteors! Then Hazel won a pin by naming all the planets…And I think we even watched baseball. It was a great #sciencesaturday #stemgirls

⏺ NASA website for Mars Trek – https://marstrek.jpl.nasa.gov/

⏺ NASA website for InSight – https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/

⏺ A full-text PDF of, “STEM Starts Early” report is available as a free download from: http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/

Karen Roark, Ph. D.
Educator Professional Development Specialist, NASA STEM EPDC
Ames Research Center