Continuous Engagement in NASA STEM EPDC PD can change the culture of the STEM classroom
Contributed by Dr. Lester Morales, EPDC Specialist, Kennedy Space Center
In the Summer of 2016, 41 Pre-Service Educators attended National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Kennedy Space Center Minority University Research and Education Projects (MUREP) Educator Institute (MEI). The opportunity was facilitated by a collaborative effort between Texas State University and NASA Kennedy Education office. The institute was comprised of a blended educational model with pre and post work done through online platforms. These platforms provided web-based trainings and electronic-micro-credential badges. During the face-face experience at the Kennedy Space Center participants were shown NASA resources in all STEM disciplines including integration of the Arts (Language Arts and History). Pedagogy focused in STEM best practices, diverse learners, and Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT) were modeled. In addition, all participants were immersed in “Real World” applications of emerging technologies, engineering design, and exploration through a behind the scene tour at NASA Kennedy Space Center.
The 41 Pre-Service Educators and 7 university faculty came from 7 Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) across NASA Kennedy Region’s that includes the states of Florida, Georgia, and the Territories of Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands.
I recently followed up with three Florida License Educators currently teaching in diverse schools in two of the largest school districts in the country. All three educators are graduates of Broward College and these are their stories.
Educator 1, is currently teaching high school Honors Biology and Environmental Science at a public magnet school in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the 4th largest school district in the nation but sadly ranked 64th in the 2015 report, “Funding Per Pupil Among the Largest 100 School District in the Nation” (Cornman et al. 2015). Educator 1 reflecting on her MEI experience shared, “MEI was an amazing experience, a community environment, it felt like home. A week-long experience that I will always cherish.” Inspired by the NASA experience, she created a “Space Club” at her school and invites scientists and business world professionals to speak to students about STEM career opportunities. She has found that the usage of the many NASA hands-on activities modeled at MEI 2016 have come in handy in a variety of settings such as summer programs, after school events, and Science Club. The experience also propelled her to pass on her knowledge and train all the summer school instructors in the same manner as was taught at MEI. She proves to be an advocate of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, teaching in a “melting pot of Cultures in Miami.” With the belief that even if you have the highest degree an educator never stops growing and learning. She values duration (length) of the PD as the number one priority. She feels that educators need time to really understand the content and context. Now as a classroom professional she wishes to sign up for similar NASA programs if the opportunity ever rises and plans to attend the SPACE Conference held at Kennedy Space Center in the summer of 2019.
Educator 2, has 5 years of teaching experience and is currently teaching in Broward County at a private K-12 International Academy. His teaching experience includes Biology, Physics, and Earth Space Science. He participated in three NASA summer experiences from 2014-2016 including a full summer internship with the Office of Education at Kennedy Space Center. He found that positive influences of MEI included the 5E Lesson Plan, hands-on activities, and to this day he has kept all his notes from the week-long MEI experience. He related, “With MEI it caused me to look at education a little bit differently, not only trying to get the content across but also to connect with the students and then take it from there. There is no one take away, there are many.” He sees the importance of updating one’s pedagogy and to constantly look for new opportunities to bring back to the classroom. The experience has allowed him to incorporate NASA content and has inspired him to continuously seek new NASA related opportunities for educators. He has learned to modify activities to the needs of his students and not to be intimidated by NASA curricula. Last year he shared his NASA MEI knowledge with two newly hired physics teachers at the school. Culturally Responsive Pedagogy could not be more important at this school where students come from all parts of the World as residential students from South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Professional Development is at the forefront in this school with different levels of engagement from grade level departmentalized, school wide, and online self-directed. He considered time as a primary beneficial factor when participating in PDs rather than being rushed in the learning process. He enjoys being part of the large community of MEI alumni and looks forward to more NASA web-based trainings.
Educator 3 currently teaches 8th grade science at a public middle school in the southwest part of the Broward Public School System, 6th largest district in the nation, where the student population is over 60% Latino students and over 90% minority students. Our Educator, currently perusing a Masters in STEM Education, shared, “The MEI week-long experience was amazing and I wish it was longer,” clearly realizing that an increase in rigor in the labs was “Okay” because an engaging hands-on lab is fun and students better understand the concepts. The biggest take away from the MEI experience was the “I can do this attitude” and not be afraid to use the NASA curricula. With this experience, our Educator obtained the courage to be a Co-Coach for the school robotics team and was even more enthused to find out the theme is “Into Orbit.” The educator wants to continue the participating in NASA related webinars and activities whenever possible. Our Educator has shared all the curriculum with the Math and Science staff at his campus and has demonstrated how to allow for integration of the subjects. He also shares that Culturally Responsive Teaching is a profound understanding of what it means to teach diverse students in the way they learn best and not necessarily the way you want to teach. Walking around his class, culture was on display on the walls, vocabulary, class instruction, images, and overall a class where diverse learning was taking place that was very relatable to students and their backgrounds. Our Educator values continued education as evidenced by continuing to add certifications to his state license, most recently Gifted Certification, and a nearly completed Reading Endorsement Certification. For future opportunities our educator hopes that NASA creates similar experiences for in-service educators, offered in the summer, and for a long period of time.
These remarks corroborate anecdotal information obtained from participants through direct classroom visitations, observations, and interviews. These three educators today are impacting and making a difference in the lives of hundreds of students through formal and informal settings, public and private institutions. The NASA MEI summer institutes inspired these educators to seek and continue the quest to be a life-long learner. These three former pre-service educators demonstrate the positive impact the program seeks to accomplish. These educators saw the value in pursuing further PD from NASA, a reputable and trusted source for professional development.
Cornman, S. Q., Zhou, L., Howell, M. R., Young, J., National Center for Education Statistics (ED), & US Census Bureau. (2018). Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2014-15 (Fiscal Year 2015). First Look. NCES 2018-301. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=sso&db=eric&AN=ED579394&site=eds-live&scope=site&authtype=sso&custid=ns083389
Dr. Lester Morales
Educator Professional Development Specialist, NASA STEM EPDC
NASA Kennedy Space Center