DOTHAN—NASA's Summer of Innovation program has translated into a summer of excitement for Dothan-area elementary and middle school students, Troy University students and local teachers thanks to the Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium.
The White House-mandated, Summer of Innovation project is working with thousands of middle school teachers and students during multi-week summer programs designed to engage students in stimulating math and science-based education. NASA's goal is to increase the number of future scientists, mathematicians and engineers, with an emphasis on broadening participation among low-income and minority students.
A grant from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville has allowed the Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium, located at the TROY Dothan Campus, to take part in the Summer of Innovation by providing several activities and programs aimed at exposing local students and teachers to the excitement of science, technology, engineering and math.
"The Marshall Center is excited to take part in the President's ambitious summer learning initiative, and we're pleased to contribute to the local efforts of Troy University, the city of Dothan and the Wiregrass region of South Alabama," said Tammy Rowan, manager of the center's Academic Affairs Office. "It's our goal to work with teachers, educators and parents across our six-state region, to help drive home the value of innovative thinking and year-round learning—and to make an out-of-this-world impression on the engineers and scientists of tomorrow."
From rocket launches to building computers, TROY's Dothan Campus, Dothan Girls, Inc. and the Engineering Academy at Northivew High School in Dothan have been abuzz with NASA-inspired activities during the months of June and July, said Sandra Armstrong, director of the Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium.
During the first two weeks in June, more than 40 rising 8th, 9th and 10th grade students from Dothan and surrounding areas participated in a Summer Engineering Camp in which they performed NASA design challenges, built and launched model rockets, and electronically interacted with NASA Marshall engineer Paul Johnson. A highlight of the first week of camp was a phone call from Astronaut Doug Wheelock, who was in Kazakhstan at the time awaiting his launch on a rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome to the International Space Station. During the call, each student was allotted one question with Wheelock about living in space aboard the International Space Station. On the final day of camp, members of the Southeast Alabama Rocketry Society helped the students launch rockets and gave them a lesson on the principles of rocketry flight.
Following the engineering camps, 14 area teachers, TROY pre-service teachers and Troy University personnel flew onboard a U.S. Air Force C-130 from Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery to the Kennedy Space Center. Arrangements for the flight were made through the auspices of the Civil Air Patrol. While in Florida, the teachers participated in a behind-the-scenes tour of Kennedy Space Center with world-renowned author and expert Andrew Chaikin, as well as dinners with former astronauts Winston Scott and Story Musgrave.
"A highlight of the tour of KSC was going into the Orbiter Processing Facility and Vehicle Assembly Building where the last two space shuttles are currently being readied for launch during the upcoming fall and winter of next year," Armstrong said.
Also in June, more than 30 rising 6th and 7th graders participated in Summer Technology Camps for eight days at the Dothan Campus. Following a pre-test to determine prior technology knowledge, 12 of the students were selected to assemble their own laptop computers for their personal use. The remaining students took part in technology training designing their own stories, podcasts, and animated programs using the most current technology programs available. The culminating activity for the technology camps was the parent visitation program where students and their parents and grandparents did a "show and tell" about what they had done and took part in a videoconference with NASA engineer Paul Johnson from the Marshall Space Flight Center.
The Summer of Innovation continued at Dothan Girls, Inc., where about 150 girls who were attending the summer program took part in a reading literacy camp with an aerospace theme. A grant from the Air Force Association helped to defray part of the costs as well as Summer of Innovation funds from the Marshall Space Flight Center. The girls read about space and aviation and did NASA activities under the guidance of Troy University elementary education majors in Bertha Roberts' class at the Dothan Campus. The girls also connected via Skype with Mitzi Adams, a Marshall Space Flight Center astronomer.
Other events included a two-day workshop for 25 local teachers and Troy University pre-service teachers led by Dr. Wil Robertson, Marshall Space Flight Center aerospace education specialist. The workshop emphasized the myriad of NASA resources available for free to make STEM education come alive in their classrooms. Participants also became members of the NEON on-line learning community with NASA, which will allow them to communicate with scientists, engineers, and other teachers all over the world.
Armstrong said the culminating activity for the Troy University NASA Summer of Innovation will be inviting the teachers and their students back to participate in the Dothan Campus' Annual Aerospace Day in the fall.
"At this point, students and teachers will interact with a visiting astronaut and reinforce what they have been taught during the summer camps and workshops," Armstrong said.
The Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium is a joint venture of TROY's Dothan Campus and local school systems with the goal of increasing student performance in math and science and to provide professional development for area K-12 teachers.
The Marshall Center oversees the NASA education initiative and public outreach in Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee.
NASA's Summer of Innovation program supports President Barack Obama's "Educate to Innovate" campaign for excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.