Friday, July 22, 2011

Applying for NASA's Reduced Gravity Program (Zero G)

Ever since my experience with NASA's Teaching From Space Reduced Gravity Program, I have had a lot of people ask me about how to apply and what the program consists of.  I'm going to start off with a caution that it is one of the hardest applications and executions of a project that I have ever done.  It should not be looked at as a "fun time" even though it is during the flight.  This is a lot of hard work and real scientific research in a very unique and special environment, and that should not be taken lightly.  Last year the applications opened up in February and were due mid March.  Here is last years schedule (  It is a tight schedule and chaotic.  The more complicated the experiment the more stressful it gets to make deadlines and report that the experiment is safe.  We had a simple bubble experiment and it was pretty stressful as the team leader.  It is a lot of emails, contacts, and typing so make sure you have the time, or a great and supportive team if you want to take this on.  My personal advice, and we suggested this to the Teaching from Space program, is to start your ideas and experiments in the fall to make it a year long project.  If everything goes well in the fall and you have great data go ahead and apply, and it might even make the application process easier.  If your school is accepted then great!  However, if not, then you probably worked on a great experiment anyway that you could probably share with parents and the community.  There are also other ways to get your experiment in zero gravity.  For example, this project -  Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.  The link for this zero gravity program on the ISS is down at the bottom of the page.  When you are filling out the application, first make sure you have a fully committed team. We had to switch some alternates and it is a hassle.  Commitment and communication is key through thick and think with this project.  When you are writing the application make sure you have a clear vision for your experiment from start to finish.  This means be VERY detailed for all the data collection in normal gravity during the school year, while you are on the plane, and your outreach when you get back.  They really love it when teachers bring in outside resources such as parents, scientists, and researchers in the local community.  They also want to see a lot of outreach when the project is finished within the school and the community.  The main goal is to answer each of their questions with great detail so that they can get a clear vision of what your team wants to study by just reading the application.  If you need more information send me a message and I will help you out as best as I can.  It is an amazing program and all of the hard work is totally worth it to experience weightlessness!

Ideas, ideas, and more ideas..

The NASA Explorer school GAVRT teacher opportunity has come to an end today.  It has been such a wonderful experience to share this with other wonderful teachers from across the country.  We shared so many best practices and I think it is safe to say we learned a lot from each other.  We also had amazing scientists share with us their research and how we can get our students excited about space science.  The coordinators from NES and GAVRT were equally wonderful.  They had us engaged, excited, and collaborating.  Some highlights were going for a hike one morning before we started our fun filled day, learning about the Radio JOVE project (, and of course seeing the radio telescopes in person.  From the entire experience I am so excited to start developing some short term and long term projects that involve using the GAVRT radio telescope.  I really want to share what I have learned with my fellow teachers at my school to see where we could go as a group (6-12).  I also want to see what the interest would be in the radio JOVE project, because the kit is SO COOL!  However, coming into this year at a new school and then heading to Alaska for most of September is going to fill my plate.  BUT!  That still leaves a lot of the school year to fill up with amazing hands-on projects!  I hope I get teacher buy in because it would be great to get radio telescope research going across the curriculum and across multiple grade levels.  We will just have to wait and see, but I am very optimistic!  On a side note I did pass my amateur radio technician test last week and just got my call sign, KF7RCV.  Cheers!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011



GAVRT, a set on Flickr.


What an amazing day! We had to start it off by driving awhile out to Apple Valley in the Mojavi.  Honestly, it was a lot like Phoenix with the dry heat and the barren landscape.  Of course it was really pretty, but nothing too shocking to me.  During our drive we all shared best practices and cool teaching strategies.  I even took notes on what one gentlemen in our car uses in his classroom.  I cant wait to try some of his strategies!  It is so wonderful to be with other teachers who have the same passions and enthusiasm to incorporate STEM (Science, technology, engineering, math) in any way they can to try and make an impact on their students.  I wish I could have conversation like that every day.  Who knows though, maybe I will this year!  Once we arrived to the main building we were in awe of the HUGE 34 meter radio telescope near where we parked.  It was quite a sight seeing all these teachers with their necks arching back to try and soak up what was in front of them, including myself.  However, this telescope would seem pretty small compared to the Mars telescope that we would see later.  It is 70 meters across and makes you feel like a small bug in comparison.  It is so amazing to know that the object in front of us is able to talk to satellites next to the sun and over a billion miles away where Voyager 1 and 2 are.  We talked to great scientists today, saw really cool desert wildlife (wild donkeys! Who knew?) and even got to go below the telescope to see all these different experiments, and then climb almost to the very top.  What a view!  I can't wait to share all of this with my students and start getting them excited for their own radio telescope time.  More to come tomorrow!

Monday, July 18, 2011


What is genuine science?  That is something we were asked today and it really made me stop and think about it's meaning and how I teach it in my classroom.  Some of the responses were that it is a way of thinking, looking at different viewpoints, problem solving, inquiry.  All of them great answers, but I really loved Dr. Steve Levin's answer which was that the universe teaches you, and it shows you you are wrong.  We are curious so we ask questions, try to figure them out, and we are proven wrong time and again.  However, having the perseverance to keep trying to figure the problem is what can eventually lead us to the right answer.  That is what science is and it is such an amazing journey and experience.  I had this personal experience for the first time during our zero gravity experiment and I wished they had taught us this way of thinking in college.  However, at least I learned it somewhat early on in my teaching career.  It is only the first day of the Goldstone NASA Explorer school opportunity and I am already loving every minute of it.  This morning we also talked about the magnetic spectrum, the radio telescopes (tried to calibrate them, but not really behaving), and learned a lot about the Juno satellite that will be leaving for Jupiter in August.  The teachers here are amazing and I am already learning so much from them.  Each person has wonderful information and experiences to share that I can take back to the classroom.  I am so blessed.  Tomorrow we head out to the actual telescopes and I will be sure to post pics! Ask yourself today, what is genuine science?

Flight 2

Well, we got the experiment all set up in the zero g plane for the rest of the team.  The second group consisted of Mary Lara from Flagstaff, Ronnie Thomas and Bejanae Kareem from Atlanta.  What a great group!  It was fun to see the plane take off knowing they were going to have the time of their life.  Once they returned they were all smiles!!  It was fun to hear their stories and only a couple from other teams had lost their cookies.  This was the last day so it was a little emotional to leave the hangar where we had worked for six days and had the time of our life. However, it was time to start swapping data and video footage for the students to analyze when we get back.  It was a little disappointing to see some of the video footage because we weren't getting the entire box to actually see the bubbles and how they were moving around in zero g.  Some of the angles were off or cameras got bumped or kicked from transitions from zero to hyper-g.  It was definitely a HUGE learning experience as far as learning more about the scientific method and conducting research in general.  Sharing these experiences with the students is going to be a huge deal and I hope they realize that in the end that even the best plans and the best science doesn't always work perfectly the first time.  I will be sure to post more after I work with the students to share their reactions!