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NASA Keeps the STEM Lessons Going From Home

By Jerry Fingal
December 20, 2020
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From launching simple paper rockets to learning how to read satellite images, NASA has assembled a rich collection of STEM activities for students from kindergarten through high school to do on their own at home as they wait out the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic shut down schools, NASA called on its education outreach experts to assemble existing resources under the banner of NASA STEM@Home, a collection of activities that students can explore online.

Denise Miller, a STEM engagement coordinator for NASA, said education departments from across the agency contributed resources and activities. It was an all-agency, all-hands-on-deck effort, Miller said.

The activities are designed for students to do on their own or with their families. Educators can browse for activities to offer their students.

Jack Van Natta, a high school physics teacher from Highland Ranch, Colorado, who has been working with NASA to streamline its existing educator guides, helped collect and retool activities that students could accomplish at home.

“When this all broke out, the idea was to take some of the better activities and break them down so that the students can do them at home alone,” Van Natta said.

The activity collections are deep and varied. They’re organized under the STEM@Home section of NASA’s STEM website and divided by grade level: K-4, 5-8 and 9-12. Each grade range has its own webpage that’s broken down by type of activity. For example, the K-4 webpage offers space-related craft activities, puzzles, coloring pages, games, books. Activities for older students include launching model rockets, hands-on citizen science projects and a tutorial on space flight.

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For educators, parents and students, there are free webinars on a wide range of topics such as “Kites and Balloons for Elementary Students at School or at Home” to “Engineering Practices in K-12 Classrooms.” There are more than two dozen webinars offered by the NASA Educator Professional Development Collaborative at Texas State University.

Miller suggested that a webinar might be a good entry point for educators looking for activities to do with their students.

NASA’s STEM@Home also has a collection of short instructional videos on YouTube on projects including how to build a straw rocket and how to simulate a landslide in a milk carton.

Van Natta says one activity he’s done remotely with his students is spotting the International Space Station as it passes overhead. lists the times and location for when the Space Station is visible from any locale. It’s brought both Van Natta’s classes and students’ families together.

“I said, ‘Hey, I want to see the best submission of a video as you watch this,’” he said. “They’ve been out there with their families, and it's been a really nice thing.”

For Van Natta, another standout offering is a virtual experience called Take a Trip Back in Time in Dino Doom, which is an interactive look at the global cataclysm that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs. He also cited a lesson in how to read satellite images and the building and launching of model rockets.

“It’s all a little bit more fun, a little bit more engaging than just having to memorize a bunch of terminology and having a test on it,” he said. “There are some really interesting activities.”

Miller also has used the resources via Zoom with her young great nieces and nephews for a family activity she calls “Science with Aunt Denise.” They did a simple project called “Comet on a Stick,” which requires only a chopstick or Popsicle stick, foil, ribbon and tape. She’s planning to make straw rockets next.

Students, parents and educators can subscribe to a weekly newsletter featuring STEM@Home highlights and other NASA outreach offerings, such as live interviews with astronauts on the Space Station. Subscribe on the website.

This is an updated version of a post that originally published on May 7, 2020.