By CHERIL VERNON
Palestine Junior High School and Story Intermediate students got the rare opportunity to talk to NASA experts this week as part of the Imagine Mars program.
A pilot program brought to Palestine Independent School District by ICEE Success (Institute where Creativity Empowers Education Success) for the first time in January 2012, Imagine Mars is a national arts, sciences and technology education initiative, where students, scientists and civic leaders are working to design a sustainable Mars community.
David Delgado, outreach coordinator for NASA’s Mars Public Engagement Team with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, visited both campuses this week, meeting with Story fifth-grade students and PJHS eighth-grade science students to discuss their Imagine Mars projects.
Students had the opportunity to Skype with NASA experts including Matt Heverle, who is in charge of Curiosity, the current Mars rover.
“David (Delgado) comes here to help students with their creative problem solving using the state standards,” ICEE Success Director Lucinda Presley, said during a classroom visit Wednesday at PJHS. “The experts they Skype with can help the students with their projects. Students are solving problems on Mars using state science standards. They have to come up with a way to invent something that would help a human survive on Mars or help with exploration on Mars.”
By working on their projects, the students are integrating Earth, physical and life science — all state standards for education.
“Then they use creative thinking to solve the problem,” Presley said. “So when they are Skyping, they are getting more information for their projects, which helps them solve problems while learning state standards.”
According to national research, in order for the U.S. workforce to be competitive in the future, our country has to train students innovatively.
“ICEE and its partners NASA and MIT (Massachusetts Institute for Technology) are actually developing curriculum that delivers these innovative thinking skills while we teach state standards,” Presley said.
While in Stephanie Johnson’s eighth-grade science lab at PJHS Wednesday, students were able to Skype with NASA artist and visual strategist Dan Goode.
“Because of Dan’s background in art and graphic design, he helps engineers see things in a different way. It’s his job to help us think differently,” Delgado said.
Students took turns Skyping with Goode asking questions about life on Mars and questions related to their Imagine Mars projects.
After hearing Goode talk about how he has a poster near him at NASA that reads “Encourage Wild Ideas,” Johnson asked Goode how to encourage her students to come up with their own “wild ideas.”
Goode said at NASA they have boards where they put their “Out There” and “Left Field” ideas on display.
“Go around and question a lot of people,” Goode encouraged the students. “If I get a crazy idea, I go talk to people, try to find the experts. Eventually, something may come out of it.”
The ICEE pilot program also is being used in schools in Tyler, Dallas, Houston (Aldine ISD) and in West Texas and has even been taken to Salt Lake City. Many of the teachers have been sent to specialized training for the program.
“The pilot program is being used for fourth through eighth grade,” Presley said.
Already, NASA and the JPL are seeing how the program can help increase student interest in education, Presley said. In some schools, test scores have already seen improvement.
“NASA is really interested in the program,” Presley said. “It’s an incredible opportunity for students to actually be learning from the guys who invented the Mars rover.”
Locally, the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce has supported the ICEE Success pilot program since its beginning in Palestine last year.
“The Palestine Chamber is truly fortunate to have Lucinda Presley as a partner in education. Building and strengthening this relationship is a main focus for our VP of Education, Andrew Gregory,” Chamber Executive Director Meghan Hill said after watching a classroom session Wednesday. “Creating the opportunity for students to Skype with JPL scientists and David Delgado is just one of the many ways our partnership has flourished. We are focused on preparing today’s and tomorrow’s leaders by promoting innovation thinking through content learning.”
Hill said the goal is to teach kids how to solve the problem, not to give them the answer.
“We are committed to preparing students for effective 21st Century thinking,” Hill said. “Thank you again to Lucinda Presley and PISD for allowing the students to have this one-of-a-kind opportunity.”