Kauai teachers receiving NASA program training

It was pure coincidence that a team of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School teachers were training in NASA programs at the Challenger Center on Oahu while NASA’s Helios Prototype, solar-powered aircraft plunged into the ocean in waters off west Kauai Thursday.

But like the Helios project will continue, as will the space-shuttle program with its multiple tragedies including the loss of one crew and craft earlier this year, so go on NASA-related programs aimed to teach the love of science, math and technology to young students on Kauai.

Through Friday, a team of seventh- and eighth-grade teachers from Chiefess was on Oahu, being trained in NASA-approved curricula, to pass on to students in those grades at the Puhi school.

“We’re trying to get the NASA influence into the upper grades,” said teacher Melissa Speetjens, who taught sixth-grade math at Chiefess but in the upcoming school year will be a math and core-curriculum teacher at the school.

She is also leader of the school’s four-teacher NASA Explorer Schools Program team, and will teach sixth-grade math in support of the NASA curriculum being tailored specifically to meet school needs as identified by the team teachers.

Chiefess is the only school on Kauai, one of just two in the state, and one of just 50 in the country, to be selected as an Explorer School, allowing teachers to access NASA data, training methods and funds to encourage students into the high-demand, shortage-plagued fields of engineering and math and science teaching.

Speetjens, along with Barbara Fontana, Brenda Carvalho and Kristine Fujita, will all attend seven days of training in late July at the NASA Ames Research Center near the Palo Alto, Calif. campus of Stanford University.

When they return, they will teach what they learned to sixth-graders at the school. The Explorer Schools program targets students in grades five through eight, but at Chiefess the decision was made to concentrate on sixth-graders, Speetjens said.

Principal Maggie Cox and state Department of Education Kauai district superintendent Danny Hamada signed documents committing Chiefess to participate in the Explorer Schools Program for three school years starting with the 2003-04 year beginning in August, Speetjens said.

The Explorer Schools Program comes with the opportunity to apply for $10,000 in NASA grants, something “definitely” high on Speetjens’ priority list, she said.

Committing to regular teacher training is part of the program, too. Another criteria for selection is that at least one of the teachers must have participated in some sort of NASA educational program before.

All four fit that criteria, she said.

“We’re ecstatic” to be selected, she added.

The school needs to be addressed through the program include the following 10 national standards:

  • Physical science: properties and changes of properties in matter;
  • Earth and space science: Earth in the solar system;
  • Life science: populations and ecosystems;
  • Math — data analysis and probability: develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data;
  • Math — measurement: apply appropriate techniques, tools and formulas to determine measurement;
  • Technology: use content-specific tools, software, and simulations to support learning and research;
  • Technology — design: students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving;
  • Math — problem solving: solve problems that arise in mathematics and other content areas;
  • Math — representation: create and use representations to organize, record, and communicate mathematical ideas;
  • Math — connections: recognize and apply mathematics in content areas outside on mathematics.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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