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West Hartford Teacher Brings NASA into the Classroom


Fifth-graders in Courtney Jacklin’s class at Smith STEM School in West Hartford watched videos of astronauts aboard the International Space Station as part of a video conference with NASA this week.

Excitement flowed through the fifth-graders in Courtney Jacklin’s class this week — “NASA is in our classroom!” they told each other. NASA’s Digital Learning Network allows schools to video conference with experts on a wide variety of topics, and it’s been a great teaching tool at this science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) magnet school in West Hartford.

Jacklin, who has used NASA web conferences with classes before, said that it’s a great way to engage and inspire her students. The web conference she and her students took part in this week, titled Humans in Space, kicked off her unit on the Earth, sun, and moon.

Jacklin said that the web conference and the preparation her students do for it ahead of time, including brainstorming questions, gets the kids enthusiastic for the new unit. “It gets them excited and thinking about the subject matter before we get into the meat of it,” she said.

The web conference focused on the International Space Station and was an interactive experience. “The NASA expert really let the kids guide the experience,” she said. To answer students’ questions, he drew on a white board and showed them videos of life aboard the International Space Station. “To have that footage come into the classroom is great for the kids,” she added.

Smith STEM employs an inquiry-based model of instruction and learning. Many of the questions the students had for the NASA expert were the typical fascinations of ten- and eleven-year-olds: how the astronauts shower in zero gravity, what they eat, abd how they’re able to use the bathroom. Through their questions and the explanations students learn about physics, engineering, and design.

Students said it was “cool and so educational,” and one student said, “I learned you can start training to be an astronaut at age 10 by learning math and science at school.”

Jacklin said that the energy and excitement from the web conference carried over into recess afterward. The playground was abuzz with student conversations, “remember how he told us…” and “imagine eating that food!”

The conversations with NASA are highly memorable for the students. Jacklin says, “It sticks with them, they cling to it.”

Jacklin said she will likely do additional NASA web conferences with her students later this year. The catalog of conference options is always changing and she said that if she sees something that’s pertinent to the curriculum, she’ll spend the time to incorporate it into her lessons.

Smith STEM received its web conferencing system through a grant from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools. The teachers were given professional development time to plan and search for video conferencing activities that most benefit their grade level and curriculum. Some of the earlier grades have conferenced with the Bronx Zoo, while the NASA conferences have become a special, “cool” fifth grade activity.

Other STEM teachers interested in conferences through NASA’s Digital Learning Network can find out how to take part here.

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