Roving the Moon

 In pictures-of-practice

Stephanie Stern, NASA Endeavor Fellow, is an integral part of Engineering Success across the North Bergen School District, NJ.

Fifty North Bergen’s third and fourth grade teachers teamed up in Spring 2012 with NASA Endeavor Fellow, Stephanie Stern, to help students understand more about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), by designing and building moon rovers.

Under the progressive direction of Bob Dandorph, North Bergen’s superintendent, Nick Sacco; Assistant Superintendent, Janet Sandstrom; Director of Language Arts; and Dr. George Solter, Director of Mathematics, Al Orlando, the district’s Science Supervisor put together a cross-curricular, week-long unit, dedicated to delivering “multiple subjects under a central theme” across the school district.

Mr. Orlando teamed up with Ms. Stern, who is the computer teacher at Franklin School, in order to plan a multiple-subject unit. The NASA Rover “STEM-venture” gives students a chance to learn in a project-based setting with hands-on alternatives to paper and pencil testing. Ms. Stern was successful earlier in the year with another lesson activity at Franklin School (covered by the North Bergen Reporter in January).

Mr. Dandorph and his team presented a challenge to Mr. Orlando and Ms. Stern to offer a truly-cross-curricular platform. Not only did students have to learn the basics of STEM content, they also had to add Language Arts and History components.

Mr. Orlando and Ms. Stern took the challenge and ran. “Stephanie built the multi-curricular project by starting with a non-fiction reading and with a comprehension piece. It had historical facts about how the original moon rover was conceived and built by NASA,” explained Mr. Orlando. “The STEM-based project included elements from our four core curriculum areas. All were delivered by centering on the NASA Design Squad building of a Lunar Rover.” In addition, Ms. Stern used the Engineering and Design Method from Engineering is Elementary to discuss how the engineering process could be used to solve challenges in other subject Areas.

“When I took the NASA Endeavor course, “E in STEM: Meaningful Content for Engineering,” explained Ms.Stern, “I learned that engineering in the classroom is an incredibly engaging way to teach an entire array of concepts.” Ms. Stern’s experience was immediately put to use on a fourth grade group at Franklin School. “We started with the Moon Lander, and discovered how well engineering design works at the elementary level. It is thanks to NASA Endeavor that made this success possible.”

Through a team effort, Ms. Stern and Mr. Orlando coordinated the necessary supplies, including a massive amount of cardboard that was used to make panels for over 1,400 rovers. They provided each teacher from the district’s schools with a special building supply kit.

After all of the kits and handouts were put together, Ms. Stern and Mr. Orlando delivered professional development to the 50 teachers across the district. As part of Ms. Stern’s Endeavor Leadership Seminar course, she was challenged to deliver professional development at the district level. The teachers subsequently learned about the engineering design process and each built a rover in Ms. Stern’s computer lab. “The teachers really took hold of the project and definitely supported the effort,” stated Peter Clark, principal of Franklin School, and the district’s Curriculum Specialist. “Cross-curricular learning is one of the best ways to reach students of different interests, and get them working together to solve problems.”

So how did the students like their Rover Mission? Jen King, a third grade teacher at Kennedy School, said that her students loved the whole project. “We added some video feed of the rover from NASA’s website and PBS’ Design Squad. The students watched how scientists engineered designs and were mesmerized.”

Stephanie Roes, a fourth grade teacher at Robert Fulton School said that her students really liked learning how things are put together. They liked how they were able to make the rovers and then record and make changes in their designs as they went along.

Participating teachers responded enthusiastically by sending Stern and Orlando a list of what they would like to add to future projects. “I really appreciated the feedback, considering it’s a big undertaking for any team of educators,” Ms. Stern said. “Going forward, I hope to help build these units to cover even more grades and get more students excited about their possible futures in science and engineering. This is a core teaching of NASA Endeavor Fellows, and has had very positive results here in North Bergen. Everyone wins – especially the students.”