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2011 NASA Science Teaching Certificate Fellowships Open

The NASA Endeavor Project is accepting applications from professional educators and teachers-in-training for its 2011 Science Teaching Certificate Fellowships. Launched in 2008 with funds set aside by NASA for a foundation in memory of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster, the program allows participants to take five graduate-level online courses, free of charge, featuring content integrated from each of NASA's Mission Directorates and the opportunity to learn from expert instructors and laboratories. Upon completion of the courses within an 18-month period, Endeavor Project Fellows receive a Certificate in STEM Education granted by Teachers College, Columbia University.

Project Director Glen Schuster, who works for program administrator US Satellite, explained what motivated NASA to design the Endeavor Project as an STEM education venture. "One of the things the project really focuses on is the offering the pedagogical content knowledge for teachers to encourage students to become more interested in STEM. It's not only to provide them the content, but the strategies and methods to effectively incorporate all type of NASA info--space, earth, aeronautics, engineering etc.--into science education."

In addition to the content knowledge and pedagogical benefits, the program offers fellows a chance to demonstrate their leadership skills. "Everyone takes a Methods in STEM class and two electives," Schuster explained. "But at the end, each fellow performs [his or her] own formal action research in education project, a research activity [that is] a systematic inquiry into some aspect of teaching and learning with the goal of improving the quality of that teaching and learning. A teacher is going to learn something about teaching, but they're going to do it in an area that interests them, in this case a STEM topic of their choosing. They're basically doing their projects and sharing the wealth, passing on what they've learned."

"We feel we have an obligation to help educators as it relates to content knowledge," said Shelley Canright, manager of elementary, secondary, and e-education programs for NASA. "We think we bring some of the right ingredients to help in that endeavor. We bring the latest [scientific] information, in the form of findings, data, and analysis that we gather from our missions. We bring other resources and tools for the teacher to bring into the classroom to give students a context for what they're learning. It's an opportunity [for teachers in the program] to bring 'real' science and engineering into the classroom."

Confirming the "real world" benefit of the program's offerings is current Endeavor Project fellow Kim Abegglen, a sixth-grade math and earth science teacher at Hockinson Middle School in Brush Prairie, WA. "We have the opportunity to be very current with the material. We adopt new textbooks in our school, but not every year. With NASA's info, we can always be very up-to-date. And we have this partnership with professionals in the STEM world, so I can say to my kids, this is what scientists actually do."

Another, less highly touted benefit, added Abegglen, is the opportunity to collaborate with teachers across the country. "We've built this community online--there's 40 of us--and when we meet on this Web space, we get to collaborate, and we learn a lot from each other. I can ask, how is this or that working in your classroom?"

After completing the program, both Schuster and Abegglen noted, an Endeavor Project fellow's leadership capabilities receive a more critical test. The "leadership distinction," as the program calls it, comes in allowing teachers to bring the benefits of the program to other teachers in their schools and regions. Abegglen said she plans to demonstrate this distinction through a genuine contribution to her district, which is relatively very small in terms of students and resources.

"I want what I do to be something that's enduring, something that fills a need. One need I've noticed in my district is that teachers need ways to enhance their lessons to make them more engaging and relatable to the real world." NASA, she learned through her work with Endeavor, has this incredible wealth of online assets, but "teachers have so many things taking up their time, they don't always have the time to research what materials they can use to enhance their lessons."

Based on the research she plans to undertake for her project, she will have gathered, organized, and classified a valuable collection of sources for such material. "I'm going to set up some professional development opportunities in the district, where I'll meet with teachers in conference, and we'll discuss what materials they can use to enhance their lessons."

The combination of the methods course, the electives from a choice of 17 courses, the online collaboration, the research project, and the post-completion leadership role give Endeavor Project fellows a more comprehensive grounding in the long-term goals of federal STEM-related initiatives, as recently laid out in a speech by President Obama, than educators generally receive from traditional professional development coursework. The deadline for applications for the 2011 Endeavor Science Teaching Certificate Fellowship is Oct. 29. Application forms and all related information can be found here.

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.