05:08 AM

Lunar and Planetary Institute to "STEP" up Science Education with Innovative Training Program

For many children, the subject of Earth and space science can stimulate curiosities and natural interests. In the state of Texas, these subjects play a large role in science education standards; however, due to student misconceptions about spatially complex topics (like lunar phases and the seasons) and to a lack of real-life experience with abstract concepts (such as plate tectonics and galaxies), these subjects can be difficult to teach. Education specialists at USRA's Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) hope this is about to change.

LPI was recently awarded funding from NASA for a proposal entitled Sustainable Trainer Engagement Program (STEP). This novel program focuses on improving middle school instruction in Earth and space science, as well as testing an innovative model for 'Train-the-Trainer.' STEP will provide 6-8th grade science specialists and lead teachers, who are charged with training their district teachers, with in-depth content that integrates NASA activities and resources in conjunction with modeled pedagogy for the Earth and space science standards for which educators are responsible in Texas.

Led by LPI Education Specialist Christine Shupla, STEP fosters collaborations between several entities, including the Harris County Department of Education, Johnson Space Center ARES, four Texas Regional Science Collaboratives, and six Houston-based school districts. The project also allows a variety of scientists from LPI, Rice University, the University of Houston, the University of Houston-Clear Lake, and Johnson Space Center to play critical roles by sharing their science, mentoring the participants, and connecting teachers with the scientists and resources at their institutions.

'We anticipate that this innovative approach to sharing Earth and space science activities and information with science specialists and lead teachers, and with the teachers that they serve, will have long-term benefits to students in the Houston area," Shupla said. "By working to provide new resources, modeling activities, and the types of detailed content that spark students' enthusiasm, we can serve to sustain student interest in these topics of geology and space science that are so vital to the future of Texas.'

Specifically, STEP proposes to provide 15 days of intense professional development over 18 months to 60 middle school education professionals; integrate local scientists as mentors and networkers; offer scaffolding support for the participants who will hold their own workshops for the other teachers at their schools; and build a sustainable Community of Practice through shared experiences, on-line discussions, and continued utilization of available networking resources. The total funding for the project is $444,604 over three years.

The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) is a research institute that provides support services to NASA and the planetary science community, and conducts planetary science research under the leadership of staff scientists, visiting researchers, and postdoctoral fellows. The LPI is managed by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA).

Founded in 1969, USRA is an independent research corporation with competencies that span space, Earth, and life sciences related disciplines, which are closely aligned with the nation's science and national security agencies. As a non-profit corporation with 105 major research university members, USRA's scientific and technical staff collaborate with over 400 universities annually. This depth of reach into the research community provides a unique platform for advancing science and technology.