Rhode Island has been selected as one of ten states to participate in a collaborative effort between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Learning Center initiative.
This year, seven middle school student teams in Rhode Island worked to develop solutions to authentic challenges that NASA scientists and engineers face. The students worked with a learning-center instructor after school, and had regular videoconference connections with subject-matter experts at NASA.
Both Nathan Bishop and Esek Hopkins middle schools participated in the challenge, while the Hopkins team advanced to the finals with their project, “Parachuting onto Mars.” Both teams were assisted at their schools by the Providence After School Alliance’s (PASA) AfterZone Coordinator Luke Martin. The students used the design and engineering process to develop a drag device that would safely land on Mars.
At the end of the process, seven selected teams from throughout the U.S., including Esek Hopkins, created videos presenting their solutions to the challenge in a U.S. Department of Education/NASA Stem Challenge Collaboration Virtual Showcase Event recognizing exemplary submissions.
Teams of students presented their innovative solutions via videoconferencing, followed by questions and answers with the Department of Education and senior NASA leadership. The panel included former astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman, James Free, director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, and Dr. Russell Shilling, executive director of STEM at the U.S. Department of Education.
According to the judges, the Esek Hopkins team “showed excellent use of the engineering design process! Throughout this video the team shared their brainstorming, building and testing experiences. Student explanations of why designs were chosen or revised (were) well thought out. The outdoor drop test was a great feature to portray the capabilities of the design. Overall, this team had a great design!”
The U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program is leading new interagency partnerships to bring hands-on STEM learning opportunities to underserved students during after-school and out-of-school time. Through this collaboration, the department will expand an existing pilot program with NASA and build new partnerships with the National Park Service (NPS) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
These partnerships will create opportunities for students to engage in solving real-world STEM challenges with scientists and experts in their field. Overall, the number of participating 21st CCLC sites will increase from approximately 20 last year to over 100. Participating states include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
The Rhode Island STEM Center and PASA provided technical assistance and support to the project locally.