Muncy students prepare to become ‘NASA employees’

MUNCY - In an age when video games are all the rage, it's not easy to gain the attention of fourth-, fifth- and eighth-grade students when teaching them science and mathematics.

That may be about to change for those in science and math classes at the Muncy School District, who are about to send climate data to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In essence, they are becoming NASA employees.

Muncy School Board learned about the experience Monday night and how later this week students will begin to observe a series of five satellites known as the A Train.

The satellites, sent into orbit by NASA, are sending information to scientists about changes in climate as well as weather data as they circle the planet at more than 15,000 mph in the same path in the sky, the teachers at the special topics meeting said.

But the satellites are looking from space down, not the other way. The students can give information to NASA from the ground up, creating a three-dimensional image for the space agency and valuable teaching tools for the school districts taking part.

They are studying atmospheric conditions such as cloud types, temperature and humidity, downloading the information and sending it to NASA scientists. The satellites generally are overhead at about 1 p.m.

"We have two plans to use NASA resources," said Edie Shull, a fourth-grade science teacher.

"Water vapor is a greenhouse gas affecting climate change so if we're increasing cloud coverage, NASA wants to know that because they are studying climate change," Shull said.

The next type of satellite going up is studying carbon emissions, which could help provide more knowledge about the melting of the polar ice caps, whether the theories of overall climatic change are related to earth's cyclical nature or if use of fossil fuels is speeding up that process.

The students get to try out practical problem-solving because Shull and two other instructors Mark Temons, a veteran science and biology teacher, and Woody Fry, who teaches fifth-grade math, went together to Goddard Space Center in Maryland, where they spent four nights and three days learning about satellites and what they measure and getting resources that are available for teachers to use in the school district. Then, they traveled to Immaculata University near Philadelphia for additional work on how to apply the information in their classes.

The learning experience arrives at a critical time when there is national pressure on teachers to have students meet demanding standards in science and mathematics, where many of tomorrow's jobs will be found.

"They are very excited," Shull said. "We're collecting data and sending it to NASA. (Students) are essentially employees of NASA and they will see scientists working on the satellites, learning different cloud types and collect temperature data."

"No matter the grade level, you solve one comment students often ask: 'What good is it?' " Temons said. "The nice thing is you're doing science and math. You're working with people who send astronauts into space. Their information is valued, not as an assessment grade, but by NASA. They all know NASA, but the kids are doing science and math without realizing it."

Fry noted the critical thing is integration, taking the data and analyzing it.

"You're not just crunching numbers in a textbook to have a test on Friday," he said. "You're actually crunching numbers to support something that is far above what we even understand. That makes it easier to do. It gives an excitement to mathematics and purpose behind it and is more than - get it right so you can do well on that test."

They are bringing what they learned from NASA and the college back to Muncy to have students apply it in class and that is exciting, according to Dr. Portia Brandt, district superintendent.

The program is conducted through the Math-Science Partnership and the National Science Foundation, among others.

Pending approval, the district is signing up for next year, Brandt said.

Once a month, the information is reviewed at institutes of higher learning, such as Bucknell University.

"It promised to be a good model for our teachers," Brandt said, "to translate into a model for our kids."

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