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A Hands-On Approach— From left to right: Kelly Elementary fifth grade teacher Al Harrington, Carver Elementary fourth grade teacher Arthur Partida, and Bursch Elementary second grade teacher Alejandra Sanchez make changes to their Mars rover, Wednesday, January 30, during a professional development seminar held in conjunction with NASA’s BEST and Trash for Teaching.
Russ Billings (left), pre-college officer, NASA DFRC and Aero Institute discusses the effectiveness of engineering-based science projects, Wednesday, January 30, during a professional development seminar at Foster Elementary School, held in collaboration with CUSD and Trash for Teaching.
Compton Unified School District (CUSD) teachers compete to see whose rocket balloon travels farthest, Thursday, January 24, during a professional development seminar at Roosevelt Middle School. The event, held in collaboration with NASA’s BEST and Trash for Teaching, was designed to introduce a more engaging approach to science and math instruction.
In an effort to implement engaging math and science instruction in all elementary and secondary schools, Compton Unified School District (CUSD) has partnered with NASA’s Beginning Engineering, Science, and Technology (BEST) and Trash for Teaching.
The new partnership launched with two professional development seminars Thursday, January 24, at Roosevelt Middle School and Wednesday, January 30, at Foster Elementary School. Teachers explored engineering-themed activities designed to encourage critical thinking, analysis, project management, and use of the scientific method. Instead of a lecture CUSD staff worked together in groups as they built Mars rovers and balloon rockets out of recycled materials provided by Trash for Teaching. Altogether, the program provides teachers with new ways to engage students with hands-on learning while using cost-effective materials that reduce waste.
Renee Cobb, administrator, CUSD College and Career Support Services and VAPA, said the new instructional strategies will be used by teachers to prepare them for next year’s implementation of the state’s new common core standards. “Beginning next year we must focus on the core subjects of math and English Language Arts, so what we’re doing here is giving our staff a head start,” she said. “Through our partnership with NASA’s BEST and Trash for Teaching, we are pushing for increased focus on math, science, and engineering concepts so that students will have real-world applications for what they learn in the classroom.”
Russ Billings, pre-college officer, NASA DFRC and Aero Institute, said that as part of President Barack Obama’s 2010 Educate to Innovate Initiative, NASA has been reaching out to schools throughout the country with its BEST program. “We have the ability to connect teachers with NASA materials, web sites, videos, and events. It’s all designed to enhance students’ learning experiences,” he said. Billings added that CUSD’s teachers welcomed the BEST program’s strategies and were eager to learn from them. “We had a great group. We’re excited to reach out to Compton’s teachers and expand our reach in the Los Angeles area.”
Israel Maciel, seventh grade life science teacher, Walton Middle School, said he and his colleagues rarely experience professional development seminars that challenge teachers with hands-on learning. “It was wonderful. We learned great ways to keep students motivated and engaged,” he noted. “By putting an emphasis on projects, they also experience cooperative learning with their classmates. The great thing about today’s seminar is that the activities we tried out can help students understand how physics and engineering work. In my case, I can also show how it all applies to life science.”
For Alejandra Sanchez, second grade teacher, Bursch Elementary School, learning engineering-based techniques help provide instruction that challenges students to use all of their skills. “The activities we’re learning today are fun, but they also encourage students to use problem solving while applying the scientific method. They have to develop a hypothesis, run tests, record their results, and develop a conclusion,” she said. “It also helps us prepare for common core standards in math and science.”
Al Harrington, fifth grade teacher, Kelly Elementary School, said NASA’s BEST professional development was an exciting opportunity for all participating teachers. “I’m a science teacher at heart, and there’s nothing I love more than this. I’m going to use what I learned and bring it to my science academy, which I host every Saturday at Kelly,” he said. “The kids are going to love making rockets and their own Mars rover. I’m a firm believer in discovery. Students need to find things out on their own and not just from a textbook. Through hands-on science activities, you give them a chance to apply what they’ve learned. You can bring the lessons to life.”
Additional information may be obtained by contacting CUSD’s Office of Communications at (310) 604-6529 or by visiting www.compton.k12.ca.us.