UT receives $10 million from NASA to transform K-12 science curriculum [video]

October 27, 2015 | Events, Research, UToday, — Languages, Literature and Social Sciences
By Meghan Cunningham

A University of Toledo researcher is leading a $10 million NASA project that will transform the way science is taught to students throughout the country.

Dr. Kevin Czajkowski, UT professor of geography and planning, is spearheading the development of new K-12 science curriculum that relies on hands-on experiments to build knowledge using the resources of NASA and education partners across the country.

“Science is much more fun when you do science,” Czajkowski said. “It is not enough to conduct preplanned experiments in the classroom or a lab and expect the students to follow the steps and get excited about scientific discovery. We need to get more students outside taking real observations in the world around them so they can use the data that they collected themselves to answer questions and solve problems.”

UT’s project is one of 27 funded with a $42 million commitment from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate to engage learners of all ages in NASA science education programs and activities.

“NASA seeks to innovate, explore, discover and inspire, and these selections build upon a legacy of excellence from our science education community,” said Dr. John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate. “STEM education is the enabler of future space exploration and these awards, together with efforts in NASA’s Office of Education and other partners, will advance STEM efforts in this country, improve U.S. scientific literacy, and help to inspire our nation.”

“This project is a perfect example of the innovative research underway at The University of Toledo that advances knowledge in ways that have profound impacts on our world,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “Dr. Czajkowski’s work will inspire students across the country to make scientific discoveries in the world around them. These real-life experiences will spark the imagination of the next generation of scientists, engineers and doctors.”

The project, called “MISSION EARTH: Fusing GLOBE with NASA Assets to Build Systemic Innovation In STEM Education,” will leverage the resources of both NASA and Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE), which is an international science and education program that connects students, teachers, scientists and citizens from different parts of the world to conduct real, hands-on science about their local environment and put in a global perspective.

The idea is to use GLOBE resources to get students out taking observations that they can then use with NASA satellite imagery to answer their own research questions, Czajkowski said.

“It is important for students to have the opportunity for trial and error, to do outside measurements in an environment where they cannot control all the variables but need to account for them in their data,” he said. “It’s about changing the curriculum for the next generation of science standards.”

For example, as a GLOBE scientist, Czajkowski worked with an educator in the Dominican Republic whose class embarked on a surface temperature project using an infrared thermometer to observe temperatures around the school and compare those from a grassy field to those in a parking lot. The paved surfaces were more than 42 degrees hotter than the grass, which posed a problem for the playground on an artificial surface that absorbs and stores heat. The experiment continued with the class looking for ways to reduce the heat and that led the school to paint the playground surface green, which was successful in reducing the heat some 37 degrees.

Part of the appeal of the MISSION EARTH project, Czajkowski said, is the diversity of the partners with expertise in different levels of education. Along with UT that has expertise in middle school project-based science, the partners include WestEd, a research and service agency in San Francisco with expertise in high school career readiness; Boston University, which has expertise in elementary and college engineering practices; and Tennessee State University will provide its expertise in college service learning. The University of California at Berkeley, NASA Langley Research Center and the technology company Raytheon also are partners on the project.

Together, they will create a K-12 progression of activities that build upon each other as the students complete each grade. The learning materials will be provided, and teachers will be supported and engaged throughout the program.

MISSION EARTH also will connect students with GLOBE’s new citizen science initiative and provide service experiences for undergraduate students studying to be teachers.

Working with Czajkowski at UT will be Dr. Glenn Lipscomb, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, and Dr. Mark Templin, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Other partners on the project are Dr. Peter Garik, Bruce Anderson and Dr. Magaly Koch of Boston University; Dr. Svetlana Darche and Dr. Matt Silberglitt of WestEd; Dr. Ronald Cohen of UC Berkeley; Dr. David Padgett of Tennessee State; Dr. Jessica Taylor of NASA Langley Research Center; and Dr. David Overoye of Raytheon.

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