Teachers conduct space research this summer at New UCF Institute

06/15/04

Teachers in National Science Foundation-funded effort to share research with their students in the fall

ORLANDO, June 15, 2004 When 11 high school and middle school teachers return to their classrooms this fall, they'll be able to show their students what it's like to research rocket fuels, nanotechnology and cooling techniques for engines.

The teachers from six Central Florida counties are conducting space research for eight weeks with professors and graduate students from the University of Central Florida's Department of Mechanical, Materials & Aerospace Engineering. The teachers will then develop models, DVDs or other teaching tools they can use to share their research with their students.

The Central Florida Space Science Institute is one of six Research Experiences for Teachers centers in the United States funded this year by the National Science Foundation. The foundation awarded UCF a $450,000 grant for three years to create and run the institute.

The institute's organizers, UCF engineering professors Ranganathan Kumar and Eric Petersen, hope that, by reaching out to teachers, they can inspire more students to study engineering in college and to become more aware of the many careers in the field. Participating teachers said they were eager to experience what it's like to conduct research at a university and to share that, along with the details of their projects, with their students.

"This will help to keep my students excited about science and research," said Lisa Scott, who teaches chemistry and science research at Satellite High School in Brevard County. "I teach very bright kids, and it's nice for them to know that a campus this close to them has this much to offer."

Bob Hillenbrand, an astronomy and aerospace science teacher at Mainland High School in Volusia County, said sitting in on classes and seminars will help him better explain to his students what they should expect when they go to college.

Ten high school teachers and one middle school teacher are participating this year. While they will spend most of their time in laboratories, they also will attend engineering seminars presented by UCF professors about topics such as space exploration and biomedical engineering.

NASA/Kennedy Space Center scientists will coordinate a three-day workshop for teachers at the institute, and teachers will spend a day at Kennedy Space Center. Those programs, which will be provided at no charge to UCF or the teachers, are part of NASA/Kennedy Space Center's ongoing efforts to educate teachers about space science and research.

Each teacher will receive a $7,000 stipend for participating in the institute, plus expenses of about $1,000 to create teaching tools based on the research.

"For two months, they will be working like graduate students and with our graduate students," said Kumar, who is chairman of the UCF Department of Mechanical, Materials & Aerospace Engineering. "We want the teachers to take back what they've learned and what they've created, and we'll pay to make research modules that they can use in the classrooms."

Most of the teachers' projects are portions of ongoing research by the National Science Foundation and NASA. Kumar said he hopes teachers will share some of their colleagues' summer research projects, in addition to their own, with their students.

The other Research Experience for Teachers programs funded by the National Science Foundation this year are at Drexel University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, the University of Arizona and the University of Maine. The research focuses of those centers include nanotechnology, physics and curriculum and leadership development.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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