Regional teachers LASSO
LOS ALAMOS, N.M., Aug. 7, 2001 Nearly
two dozen teachers will blast off the new school year
this fall using a curriculum they developed with the
help of space scientists from the Department of Energy's
Los Alamos National Laboratory. The 20 teachers came
to Los Alamos from around the state of New Mexico and
from El Paso, Texas, as part of the Los Alamos Space
Science Outreach program. The program is designed to
educate teachers about space science and provide them
with educational materials, projects and curriculum
to take back to the classroom.
"The philosophy of the program is to
teach the teachers," said Phil Barker, program manager
for NASA Space and Science Instrumentation programs
at Los Alamos and chairman of LASSO. "We know our science,
but are not trained and have little experience in how
to tell a teacher to motivate a fourth grader to learn.
We teach the teachers and get them fired up so they
go back to school with enthusiasm. My experience is,
if the teachers are excited -- it is contagious."
"The main [reason or] purpose of this
outreach program is to get more kids interested in math
and science, and in this case, space science," said
Richard Alexander of Los Alamos' Science and Technology
Base Programs Education Program Office. "We have received
many letters from the teachers saying that this program
is one of the best they have experienced in terms of
educational content and student enthusiasm," said Barker.
In the summer workshop series, the teachers
participate in 120 hours of intense learning activities.
They learn about basic physics concepts, the sun, moon
and planets, Earth's magnetosphere, NASA missions and
instruments aboard the spacecraft, and data processing
and analysis, according to Barker. "Very few people
have knowledge about satellites, the solar wind, Earth's
magnetosphere, so this gives the students pride that
they are involved in learning about things that other
kids don't know about. They get excited when presented
stuff that is different - non-traditional," said Gary
Gill, a teacher at Floyd High School, in Floyd, N.M.
Several scientists in Los Alamos' Space
and Atmospheric Sciences and Space and Remote Sensing
Sciences groups deliver lectures, conduct tours of laboratories
and provide hands-on activities for the teachers. The
teachers learn cutting-edge science and technology that
they can bring back as opposed to textbook material.
The scientists also help the teachers develop lesson
plans and science projects for the upcoming school year
and help make this information available on the Web.
Alexander said the teachers' tasks are
to develop lesson plans and science/engineering projects
and activities appropriate for the grade level they
are teaching -- kindergarten to junior college -- and
implement these during the following school year. These
lesson plans and activities are put on the Web for teachers
around the world to use and to see what Los Alamos is
doing in the space sciences.
"We try to do innovative teaching styles
and techniques. This year the students are going to
a capitalist venture firm and asking for funding for
a project," said Gill. "The kids are going to have to
give a spiel on MEMS [micro-electro-mechanical systems]
and how it will make for better space travel and satellites
and try to get the firm to buy into this. The kids get
really excited and into this kind of stuff -- especially
when it involves money."
Los Alamos scientists also visit classrooms
throughout the school year as part of the LASSO program
and engage students and teachers in a variety of activities,
such as robot building, and lectures and demonstrations
on the sun and solar wind. The activities are directly
tied to Los Alamos space science programs and help to
develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills
and expand an understanding of space science with the
goal of encouraging lifelong learning. Parents also
are invited to these activities to participate with
the students as a team in the hands-on segment and become
informed about what their children are learning in school.
This enhances the parent-child-education relationship,
according to Barker.
LASSO's funding comes from the many
projects NASA funds at Los Alamos. A portion of NASA
funding granted to [Los Alamos] for science and research
projects is [always] earmarked for education and outreach
The program's first year, in 1998, had
a budget of $10,000 and was able to support six teachers
for 10 days. Over the past few years the number of NASA-sponsored
programs at Los Alamos have increased and so LASSO funding
also has increased.
"This year's funding allowed the LASSO
program to select more candidates, [and] we tried to
maximize the impact of the funding by bringing in more
teachers," said Alexander. LASSO provides a stipend
to the teachers to help cover their expenses during
their three weeks in Los Alamos. They also get a follow-up
stipend to implement the lessons and activities they
develop while at Los Alamos, and for preparing and submitting
an end-of-the-year report to the LASSO program.
LASSO money can be used to buy computers
and provide Internet access for classrooms that lack
the hardware. For more information on the LASSO program
visit http://set.lanl.gov/programs/lasso/ lassomain.htm
Los Alamos National Laboratory is
operated by the University of California for the U.S.
Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration