Georgia Tech and NASA partner to enhance STEM teaching

Interactive courses available tuition-free to K-12 educators

The Georgia Institute of Technology and NASA are partnering to deliver educational resources designed to enhance K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) instruction. The five-year, $3 million collaborative agreement is on schedule for developing four topic areas including robotics, project-based inquiry learning, interactive statistics and technology integration.

Integrated into Georgia Tech’s Distance Learning and Professional Education (DLPE) professional development course offerings, NASA’s Electronic Professional Development Network (ePDN) project offers the online, interactive courses tuition-free to any United States citizen worldwide currently teaching in a K-12 classroom (public, private or home school).

The partnership resulted after the Georgia Tech Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC) and NASA realized that their respective STEM-related courses had the potential of effectively reaching more teachers through a distance learning format. CEISMC’s expertise in STEM education and DLPE’s experience in online course delivery provided a winning combination for NASA to locate ePDN on the Georgia Tech campus.

As the ePDN program enters its third year, more than 400 teachers have enrolled from 46 states as well as Puerto Rico, Brazil, Mexico and Ukraine. The high-demand classes, which provide continuing education units, can each accommodate 50 students. Participants who complete four courses earn a certificate.

“The teachers really like these courses and get a lot out of them,” said Fran Ruskin, Georgia Tech’s ePDN project coordinator.

Comments shared on course evaluation forms have been positive. “In my sixth grade science classroom, I’m currently using NASA’s Field Trip to the Moon activities. The excitement, creativity, teamwork and problem solving among my students have convinced me that project based learning is the way to go,” shared one of the program participants.

According to Ruskin, the courses require weekly assignments ranging from watching a video or developing a lesson plan to answering forum posts and sharing hands-on tasks like building or programming robots. “Participants often mention their increasing self-confidence with technology, their enjoyment of new strategies that engage students and the strong sense of connection with others taking the course,” she said.

“We want participants to feel like a community of learners, so we incorporate many collaborative tools -- a particular expertise of DLPE,” said Marion Usselman, CEISMC’s associate director for academic outreach. “This dynamic is very different from doing a course independently at your own pace.”

According to Usselman, the goal is for problem solving and creative thinking from the training to translate into changes in the classroom. “That’s what we’re trying to do. So far, the evidence suggests that we’re succeeding.”

Additional information and applications for Spring 2011 ePDN courses are now online at http://www.nasaepdn.gatech.edu. Notifications about upcoming courses may be requested by e-mailing nasaepdn@gatech.edu.

Georgia Tech and NASA partner to enhance STEM teaching
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Online professional development workshops for educators create a community of learners. (Photo provided by NASA Stennis Space Center