NASA grants launch students into design thinking

Last August, NASA awarded $125,000 across nine organizations, challenging them to bring NASA educational content to students across Ohio. Khalila Thomas directed this project from the NASA Glenn Research Center. After a pilot year with a single school partner, Battelle helped to broaden their reach across Ohio.

“I think it went really well,” Thomas said, “and with Battelle’s help, we were able to expand it to nine organizations.”

Battelle managed an RFP process, leveraging its connections with schools across the state to find a diverse variety of approaches, all incorporating great classroom resources from NASA.

The PAST Foundation worked with Baldwin Road Middle School in Reynoldsburg to foster design thinking. They focused on answering an overarching design question – how can we survive in an uninhabitable or unknown environment? From there, students researched real moons and planets, then simulated their solutions in the real-world.  Students designed, built, evaluated, and modified from idea to product, learning far more than just “the right answer.”

“They’re turning their whole fifth grade hallway into this habitable area for living,” PAST’s Heather Kellert explained, quietly acknowledging that middle school hallways are notoriously inhospitable.

One student tried to persuade her that moon colony life would even be better than Earth, with longer days and nights. “She was like, you can sleep 9 or 10 hours and then stay awake for longer,” Kellert said, “and I was like – girl, you’re convincing me!”

In another project, WOSU worked across Columbus City Schools, coaching K-5 library aides to bring experiential learning into the stacks. By training paraprofessionals in NASA resources and design thinking, they supported the expanding role of libraries in the 21st century.

“WOSU in one month reached almost 1500 students,” Thomas said. “It’s mind-blowing that we were able to do something that had that much of a reach.”

Thomas says that NASA is thinking hard about what’s great for kids in school, and how to prepare them to be the workforce of the future. But it goes beyond just Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

“It’s not going to be all engineers,” said Thomas. “It’s not going to be all scientists, but it’s going to be a lot of people who have a lot of different skills.”

As the program moves forward, we’ll be sure to keep OSLN readers in the about more opportunities from NASA.

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