Monday afternoon 4th and 5th graders at Sacred Heart Cathedral School had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in a live video conference with NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. The presentation was given and organized by former Sacred Heart student Ryan Schaffer, who used to work for NASA.
"I worked with the science teachers to find out what the kids had been studying so I could relate the presentation to those topics," Schaffer said in an e-mail.
Students learned first-hand how the science, technology, engineering and math skills they are learning today may put them on a path towards Mars in the future.
During the presentation, Schaffer talked about several subjects including the scientific method, plants in space, Mars, careers at NASA and microgravity.
According to Schaffer, the term "zero gravity" is actually incorrect, even in space there is still a very small amount of gravity present which NASA calls microgravity.
The students were amazed at many of the things Schaffer told and showed them, including videos of R2, a robot NASA is working with and hopes to take into space eventually. He also presented a plane simulation of microgravity.
"My kids thoroughly enjoyed him incorporating what we were learning in the classroom with what they do at NASA," Rona Weishapl, the 5th grade science teacher said in an e-mail.
When Schaffer talked about the study of plants in space and hydroponics, the fifth graders eyes all lit up; they were studying the same thing in their class.
"Incorporating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the classroom is a wonderful way for students to see a real-life connection to science, technology, engineering and mathematics," Weishapl said. "I am beyond pleased with how the video conference went."
According to 4th grade science teacher Daniel Dawson, space isn't something his class has covered yet, but they have learned about some other physical sciences such as sound and motion. They will cover space later in the year, and this presentation will help when they get to that topic, Dawson said.
Both teachers and Sacred Heart principal Chad Meitner were so pleased with how the video conference went that they are considering making it a regular part of the curriculum.
Students also got to see live views of Mission Control, a microgravity training pool and other shots of the Johnson Space Center, which really helped to make the presentation real for them.
Schaffer told the students that to work at NASA, they don't necessarily have to be an astronaut. He himself isn't one.
"You can be a carpenter, engineer, cook or a lot of other things, and still work for NASA," Schaffer said. "But you do have to pay attention and work hard in school to achieve your dreams, whether that be working for NASA or something else."
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