I just returned from attending The Year of the Earth at The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. JPL is managed by the California Institute of Technology for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Thoughts and ideas are continuously swirling in my mind. There is so much for students to learn and do. NASA through JPL has many interactive websites and apps for students that promise to enlighten and engage. There will be a list at the end of this post.
There were live demonstrations revolving around climate change, which is fundamental for students to learn. Oceanographer Josh Willis (http://science.jpl.nasa.gov/people/Willis/) from JPL lit a balloon on fire to watch the heat instantly melt the plastic so the balloon would explode. To demonstrate what happens to the ocean or water as our climate warms from production of greenhouse gasses (water covering about 72% of the earth’s surface), he lit a water filled balloon on fire waiting for it to also explode, which of course it didn’t. This demonstration shows how water can absorb heat. It would take a long time until the water inside the balloon boils and then pops the balloon. This “experiment”(I think most knew the outcome) brings to life the reality that the oceans are in fact rising and why.***
I think real life experiences like this teach. That simple example shows students that yes, this global warming thing is in fact real. It shows what happens on a grand scale and brings it to an understandable level for anyone. Although this experiment’s outcome may have been known to many, it is nonetheless important. From this point, students will ask further questions, perhaps create their own experiments and learn through trial and error. My hope is that from starting out with an experiment of known outcome is that students will think, try things, and yes, perhaps make mistakes and fail through which they will learn. I want to explore further what students can do, and what questions they can ask that do not have a predictable outcome. Engage students in the 5E instructional model-especially the Extend piece. This critical thinking and hypothetical learning process gleans new knowledge. To me, this is what STEM education is. http://www.nasa.gov/offices/education/programs/national/dln/home/5e_model.html#.Un_TApQYJRg
As a non-scientist or engineer, I marvel at what these people are able to do and discover. I admire their knowledge and pursuit of truth. The place where critical thinking, creativity, innovation and STEM meet is truth. Inspiring me as a grown-up to influence and inspire a generation of students is imperative. NASA/JPL holds these events to publicize their worthwhile work. This audience was easy, begging for information and marveled by it all. Our job now is to go out to the world and spread the word. There are skeptics (we discussed how important skepticism is to science and discovery) and non believers. The voices of some of these people are loud and backed by significant dollars. My hope is that truth will win. Our society needs to know that there is great work being done at NASA JPL and that the world is listening. Many of these scientists and engineers are home grown and educated here in the United States. As educators, we must inspire those who will do and create in a world of which we don’t know the limits. Seek your inspiration and pass it on.
***This is just one short example of the many high quality, informative presentations we heard.We were treated to the expertise offered by JPL scientists, project managers and engineers that catered to the non-science audience. I chose Dr. Willis because of the real world activity easy for any K-12 student to understand while teaching an important concept like global warming.
Educational Websites through NASA JPL: (There are many more–just a start)