June 29, 2010

NASA Data Gives Hands-On Approach At Teacher Workshop

Last week, teachers from the United States, Mexico, Cameroon and French Guyana joined with teachers in Puerto Rico to learn how they can take environmental studies into their own hands and back into their classrooms.

At a workshop hosted by Hampton University in Hampton, Va., NASA and the Puerto Rico NASA Space Grant Consortium, participants were given the tools they need to study particles in the air in their own neighborhoods so that they can analyze how those particles, also known as aerosols, affect local and global climate.

"Great partnerships and science projects evolve by giving teachers an opportunity to collaborate with one another, especially when it is done on a global level," says Barbara Maggi, the outreach director at the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Hampton University and workshop team member.

The workshop took place in La Parguera, Puerto Rico from June 20 - 25 at a local AERONET (AErosol RObotic NETwork) facility, a site dedicated to measuring atmospheric aerosols from the ground. During this time of year, quite a significant amount of dust travels over Puerto Rico from the Saharan Desert, creating optimal conditions for getting hands-on experience with measuring aerosols.

These lessons and projects, however, will go beyond just the workshop.

"The teachers attending the workshop will develop lessons and investigations that allow their students to better understand the impact humans have on their environment and how that impact can affect other communities worldwide," explains Maggi.

When the teachers return home they can continue to work directly with scientists to conduct local atmospheric investigations and make comparisons with other data collected by NASA satellites, which is publicly available through a program called MY NASA DATA.

"Research shows that the best way to interest students in science is to give them an opportunity to work with real science projects and scientists," says Dianne Robinson, a Hampton University professor and director of the workshop. Paul Adams, a nationally recognized science educator from Fort Hays State University is also leading many of the hands-on activities.

One of the connections being made between students and real scientists is an ongoing NASA study of African dust and its effect on climate and oceans. Learning the science behind this study allows teachers at the workshop to make lesson plans with real-life applications about why studying particles in the air is important.

Olga Kalashnikova, a research scientist at NASA who is studying the African dust, explains that dust storms like those occurring in Africa can affect the Earth in many ways, such as changing soil moisture content, air and surface temperatures, rainfall and air quality.

Dust in the atmosphere can also affect marine biochemistry. "When dust passes over water, it can affect marine ecosystems by supplying nutrients to the open ocean," explains Kalashnikova.

The workshop organizers sought to raise awareness about resources for educators, such as MY NASA DATA and the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program. These programs allow teachers and students to observe satellite data and participate in taking and reporting environmental measurements.

"NASA satellite missions provide educators with an excellent opportunity to involve their students in data collection and analysis," says Robinson.

Jennifer Collings, NASA's Langley Research Center


Image 1: During the workshop, teachers used IR thermometers to investigate the temperatures of iguanas. Credit: NASA

Image 2: The participants took sun photometer measurements of the Aerosol Optical Thickness (AOT) in the atmosphere. Credit: NASA


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