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Professor of Education Valerie Beltran and three graduate students will attend a five-day education workshop run by NASA July at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
The program, called NASA Educator Institute, has two workshops, one for elementary school teachers, and another for high school teachers.
The workshop that Beltran and graduate students Maggie Moreno, Melissa Eahle and Natalie Diaz applied for will demonstrate different activities that can be used in a high school classroom to teach students mathematics and physics related concepts through a hands-on approach.
“We felt that, since this is our first time, we wanted to get students who are solely dedicated to math and science because that’s going to be the main focus of this workshop,” Beltran said. “Our elementary teachers teach every subject under the sun.”
NASA Educator Institute invited students from minority-serving institutions to learn how to teach subjects related to science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM subjects.
Beltran said that on the application, the University wrote that they are a Hispanic serving institution.
Beltran said that workshops like this are vital to helping teachers learn how to comply with standards like Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.
Common Core is a set of standards implemented in 2010 that dictate what K-12 students should know in math and English. Next Generation is a set of science education standards released in 2013.
These standards focus less on memorization and more on application of learned concepts.
“With the new standards that we have, Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, those standards are asking our teachers to teach in a way that students aren’t just regurgitating the material, but rather, they’re doing much more hands-on experiments, delving deeper into the topics,” Beltran said.
“Our hope is that, through these workshops, our teachers are going to strengthen their own knowledge, because to do that type of teaching, you need a strong foundational background.”
Beltran said that the focus on hands-on learning in STEM subjects is advantageous to minority students, particularly Latino students who speak English as a second language.
“In California’s K-12 system, about one in every four students at the K-12 level is an English learner, which means English isn’t their first language,” Beltran said.
“If you’re just trying to listen to a lecture in a language in which you’re not fluent, you’re not going to get it all. But if you’re doing hands-on types of things, you’re able to process and converse in your native language and your retention is going to be better.”
Candidates had to complete nine hours of professional development training through participation in webinars, or seminars conducted online.
The webinars were conducted between candidates and members of JPL, and they discussed research conducted by NASA and how such research can be applied to classroom activities. Candidates earned badges for the hours completed.
Diaz, graduate student studying education and technology, signed up for two seminars, one in water filtration, and the other in satellite engineering.
“I am specifically teaching biology, which is more life science, but I can apply the water filtration into my lesson,” Diaz said.
“When I teach about the environment, or biology and life science, we talk about recycling and the ecosystem. It kind of relates to those topics. It can also relate to water cycles, how we get our water, how important water is.”
Moreno, bachelor’s in math and physics minor, signed up for two online seminars. One focused on what changes occur in the brain when someone is in outer space, and the other focused on implementing experiments in the classroom.
“I’ve never been to JPL, so I’m really excited that I get to visit the facility and look at all of the machines that they have, to really learn that entire subject,” Moreno said.
“I’ve never really studied space exploration or any of those topics, so I’m excited to learn about it. I know from the math and physics point of view, but it’s very basic.”
Aryn Plax can be reached at email@example.com.