KPMS students Kelson Mills and Alex Ramirez were one of three teams from the school to present their investigation at NASA space centers. Their study on lunar water recycling was presented at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo courtesy KPMS

The NASA space program is still flying high at KPMS. Although NASA is cutting back their flight missions, the space program continues and so does its influence on science and math studies.

When asked how changes at NASA would affect STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education at KPMS, science teacher and NASA coordinator, Kareen Borders, said, “We are expanding next year.”

The school will add one more elective to the science curriculum offering three options: aerospace, mission specials, and robotics.

“Once a NASA school, always a NASA school,” Borders said. “I don’t think the space program is over with, it just may end up looking different,” She explained that putting the moon mission flights on hold doesn’t end NASA programs. For example, NASA satellites are observing and recording the Gulf oil spill while others are monitoring earth’s ground water.

The success of the science program at KPMS has benefited the development of community partnerships and grant funding. Each year the Galaxy Theater hosts the NASA family night lecture presentations that are free to the public. Outside funding from such companies as AMGEN Corporation and Starbucks supports such costs of the program as student travel to space centers, the Family Night program at the end of the year, and the Kick-off program in the fall. Borders emphasizes that no school funding is used for the NASA program expenses.

Presentations of student investigations are a highlight of the KPMS program. This year, the Aerospace Class designed lunar water recycling stations and also designed Mars landers. Six students and their teacher, Amy D’Andrea, traveled to NASA Ames Research Center, in California; and two students traveled with teacher Cindy Knisely to the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida. Outside funding paid the bills.

At the Ames Center, Kevin Pszczola, Brendan Greetham, and Joe Mendenhall presented their lunar water recycling investigation. “The entire trip was fun, from the moment we woke up (3:00 in the morning) to when we exited the airport.  Everything we did was exciting.  I learned that if there are strong winds in Cape Canaveral, that the shuttle lands at Dryden, an area south of Ames.  This trip gave me information about how to start a career with NASA!” writes Brendan Greetham.

Also at Ames, Dakota Ochs-Brown, Whitney Jackson, and Ashleigh Hicks presented their Mars lander investigation. “The most exciting part of Ames was definitely the fluid dynamics lab.  They put a car in a wind tunnel and sprayed some ink in front of the car.  The ink looked like a flame!  I learned that air currents are rougher closer to the ground.  We even listened to the currents using a tube.  Now, I want to design aerodynamic homes for people who live in tornado zones!” writes Dakota Ochs-Brown.

Students from 37 other schools across the country met at the Kennedy Space Center where Kelson Mills and Alex Ramirez presented their lunar water recycling investigation.

“The presentation of our water recycling system went well.  We did activities such as seeing the crawler, visiting the launch pad, touring the astronaut hall of fame, the Kennedy Visitor Complex, and the Saturn V rocket Center…” writes Alex Ramirez.  Along with the space center experience, the state of Florida impressed Kelson Mills. “It is a completely different climate.  We saw about eight alligators, five ospreys (including a nest of chicks), flamingos, and egrets, and some pelicans.  We also got to see the Saturn 5 rocket museum and touch a piece of moon rock! We saw the space shuttle landing strip and the humongous crawler used for transporting the shuttle, liquid fuel tank, and solid rocket boosters.  It was an awesome trip!” he wrote.

Last spring, at the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama called on all Americans to join the effort to elevate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education as a national priority. “Science and technology have long been at the core of America’s strength and competitiveness, and the scientists and engineers who have led America on its remarkable path to success share something very precious: science and math teachers who brought these critical subjects of life,” said Obama.

This summer, the KPMS-NASA teaching team meets to develop curriculum for the classes. NASA is not a separate program; the classes support and engage the district wide math and science goals. However, the team will have to schedule around Borders busy calendar. In mid-July she will be in Bremen, Germany to make a presentation about K-12 education and space research at the COSPAR Scientific Assembly. In addition, she is waiting for a travel date to fly to Washington, D.C. to receive this year’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. This annual award is given to the best pre-college-level science and mathematics teachers from across the country. The winners are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following an initial selection process done at the state level. Winners of this Presidential honor receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion, an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. with several days of educational and celebratory events.

As Borders reflected on the successes of the NASA program, she noted that the first round of NASA students graduated from high school last year and some of them have enrolled in aeronautical engineering, science and math college majors. “We have the most curious, brightest, best kids in the world. They will be designing the next mission to Mars. I’m going to beg for a front row seat at the launch,” says Borders.

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