Monday, 8 August 2016

A student videoconference with NASA

Getting students involved with global citizen science projects is a great way to engage kids with science and to instil curiosity and a desire for lifelong learning. There are many such projects available, and this week some students at my school were fortunate enough to participate in a videoconference with a scientist from NASA!

Students give a presentation about El Nino.

Joining us from NASA for this videoconference was Peter Falcon, the NASA/JPL Earth Science Outreach Coordinator, who also works with the CloudSat Education Network

The session began with my students giving the traditional Thai greeting to Peter, before some Matayom 3 (Grade 9) students gave a presentation about the effects of the latest El Nino event here in southeast Asia (thanks go to my colleague Ajarn Craig Wardman for helping the students prepare for this). 

Students making their CloudSat observations. 

Peter was impressed at the level of detail and information provided by our students. He next gave us a 30 minute presentation on some of the background to the CloudSat project and how the data collected by students around the world are used by NASA scientists to calibrate their satellite instruments. He also explained how the CloudSat project nearly came to a premature end when the satellite's solar panels stopped working correctly. Fortunately, after several months of trial-and-error tweaking, the NASA scientists came up with a solution which allowed the CloudSat satellite to resume its observations, and the project was saved. 

Group photo!

This kind of collaborative, global project can be used to get students engaged across all of the STEM subjects. It can even lead to a STEAM-based approach, with art added to the mix of science and technology. For example, Peter mentioned some schools have students write poetry about clouds, in addition to learning about the earth and climate science aspects. 

Overall, holding this videoconference served two main purposes. Firstly, it allowed those students who had already participated in CloudSat to see how their data helped NASA scientists with their research. Secondly, it hopefully aroused interest in the younger students so that they will wish to take part in the CloudSat project in the future. This seems to have worked - later this week some students will be participating in their first CloudSat observations!