Thursday, 23 February 2017

A visit from NASA

I was recently extremely pleased and honoured to welcome two NASA scientists, Dr Dorian Janney and Peter Falcon, on a visit to my school. There were a number of factors that led up to this point, which I will outline here, along with a brief overview of the visit itself. 

A few years ago my school purchased an automated weather station. We had it installed on the roof, and it now continuously uploads data to the website Weather Underground. Since then a colleague, Craig Wardman, and myself have also facilitated the participation of some our students in various citizen science programmes. These include NASA's S'COOL and CloudSat weather observation schemes. During that time we have held a number of videoconferences for our students where they had the opportunity to interact with different NASA scientists.

Recently, however, we were lucky enough to take things a step further, when two NASA scientists, Dr Dorian Janney and Peter Falcon, paid a visit to our school. We invited our Year 8 students, along with members of our Climate Club, to join in with an afternoon of activities and discussions about the scientists' work with NASA.

The students began with presentations about life in Bangkok and at our school, and followed this up with a fun quiz created in Mentimeter. Whenever we have videoconferences, webinars, or indeed visits such as this, we encourage some of our students to give brief presentations. This gives them invaluable speaking practice, especially as some of them may go on in the future to international careers where English is the medium of communication. 

Following the students' presentations, Dorian gave a great talk about the important work NASA is doing in relation to the earth's water cycle. The kids were surprised to learn that the water they drink could have once been dinosaur pee! 

Next, Peter gave a fascinating insight into life as a NASA scientist. He outlined the time his department were given the opportunity to launch an instrument that would be attached to the International Space Station - except they had an extremely tight window of opportunity in which to design and construct the instrument. They managed to put an instrument together in time by rounding up old bits of kit they had from previous missions. 

The day ended with a line of students queuing up to ask questions, which Dorian and Peter very patiently answered. This was a great way for our students to make connections between what they learn in class and real-world science, while engaging in discussions with practising scientists from NASA, a globally-recognised leader of scientific research and exploration.

All in all, this was a fantastic experience for our students, and one which we can hopefully repeat in the future. We are very grateful to Dorian and Peter for affording our students this opportunity. As a thank you we took them out for dinner - although this also gave us more time to quiz them about their amazing experiences of working with NASA!