Matthew Shafer seems to appreciate the great opportunity he’s getting to learn about NASA’s scientific research at his school’s extracurricular science, technology, engineering and math program, which he decided to join this year.
“I found out it was NASA, and then I instantly wanted to join” the after-school program, the eighth-grader said Wednesday.
Shafer and his classmates are among only a few dozen students in the country who are benefiting from a pilot program teaching students about some of NASA’s programs, including the storm-tracking drone Global Hawk that flies over the Atlantic Ocean to find and measure hurricanes and tropical storms.
“It’s actually out flying and getting data right now,” said math teacher Carrie Herron, who along with Galway Junior/Senior High School science teacher Jim Reynolds was one of six teachers in the country who attended NASA’s Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) Teacher Institute over the summer at NASA Aero Institute in Palmdale, Calif.
NASA paid for the teachers to attend the one-week institute in August and is piloting its education program in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes in California, Brooklyn and Galway.
“Eventually there will be a nationwide curriculum for all teachers,” Herron said.
But for now, Galway students are the eager test subjects.
videos from drones
On Wednesday, eighth- and ninth-grade STEM students got to see a video from 2010 of an unmanned storm drone as it flew 65,000 feet above the Earth, and above hurricanes, which form at a little more than 40,000 feet. The drones fly so high that the curvature of the Earth is visible.
The camera mounted to the drone’s undercarriage recorded its movements as it tracked Tropical Storm Karl. Pilots on the ground controlled the drone’s movements by computer.
The students also saw a real-time computerized map that showed the drone’s location and movements as it tracks a storm.
NASA is deploying two drones currently from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to gather information from tropical storms and study how they develop into hurricanes.
The drones drop small sensors to record the wind speed and other factors with the eventual aim of predicting how intense a hurricane will be. While scientists can fairly accurately figure out where a hurricane will go, they can’t always predict how powerful it will be, the teachers said.
“It helps inform people about upcoming hurricanes,” said Kenny Dennison, a ninth-grader.
If scientists can predict a hurricane’s intensity, they can better prepare people to evacuate, or stay put if the storm won’t be very bad.
Shafer said someday he might like to work on a big project like the Global Hawk.
“I want to learn more about how they work and how they’re used to help people, to benefit them,” he said. He already envisions how a better world could come from the storm information the drones gather.
“Once we learn more about them, we can maybe prevent them.”
Teachers learned in August about the science behind the mission, how to monitor the flights and interact with scientists running the mission with a special Web interface that’s not available to the general public.
On Wednesday, Reynolds typed students’ questions about the Global Hawk to a scientist, who answered back in a chat feature.
This year is Galway’s second running an after-school STEM program for sixth- through ninth-graders to give them a taste of those fields. The classes meet once a month for 10 months and include special lectures and trips.
The Galway Teachers Association sponsors the classes.
Herron said of the youngsters, “The goal of this program is to hook them at the exciting age.”