NASA Teacher's Workshop Brings Robotics and the Universe into W.Va. Classrooms

Jul 17, 2014

Two teachers show off their robot during the "WeDo Robotics!" lesson.
Credit Chris Fleming / STARBASE Martinsburg

Local elementary and middle school teachers in and around the Martinsburg area attended a NASA Teachers Workshop, Wednesday, hosted by STARBASE Martinsburg. Going on its twelfth school year, STARBASE has hosted these workshops each summer to better prepare educators in the ever-evolving field of science and math. But the question is, with all the demands teachers face during the school year, can they effectively take the time for these new resources in their own classrooms?

Pam Casto, a NASA certified trainer, led STARBASE’s NASA Teachers Workshop in Martinsburg. She taught two lessons titled, “WeDo Robotics!” and “Afterschool Universe,” aiming to help guide teacher’s keep their students engaged in the classroom as well as teach new and effective approaches to science and math, and Casto assures that incorporating these new lessons into teachers’ already busy schedules will be easy and fun.

“So far all the teachers that I’ve encountered in my workshops are very enthusiastic about learning new things to take back to their classroom," said Casto, "but they do have problems, they often have budgetary problems, and so NASA and West Virginia has over a million dollars’ worth of equipment we will loan them for free, and we will show them how to use the equipment in their classrooms, and then they can borrow it from us for free to use in their classrooms.”

For third grade teacher, Heather McCain at Tomahawk Intermediate, her biggest concern is getting her hands on the equipment.

“My concern is when can we sign up, and how long will it take to get the materials, and things like that," said McCain, "so as long as I have that, as far as putting it into my curriculum, I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”

Teachers work together to build and program their group's robot.
Credit Chris Fleming / STARBASE Martinsburg

To acquire the equipment, all a teacher has to do is attend one of NASA’s teachers workshops to learn how to effectively use the equipment and care for it. Matthew Collier, the head of the science department at Hedgesville Middle School says, it’s worth it.

“As a learner when I was growing up, I learned a lot better hands on and it made the lessons stick," Collier noted, "so I think it’s actually worth the time, the extra planning, and the travel to have these resources, because it really drives a lesson home.”

Angela Pittenger, a second grade teacher at Berkeley Heights Elementary School, thinks it’s important to change up the old and make way for the new, even if old ways may be stubborn to leave.

“To do this," Pittenger began, "one of the things that you do, is you kind of modify things to go around it, so if we’re doing something with robotics, maybe we bring in that with literacy as well, where we do something to do with robots, and things like that, and with common core, and it’s a matter of just modifying things as you go, and trying it out.”

Pam Casto, a NASA certified trainer, teaches lessons in improving the science and math curriculum for elementary and middle school teachers.
Credit Chris Fleming / STARBASE Martinsburg

In the morning lesson, “WeDo Robotics,” the teachers learned to build, program, and engineer robots from lego kits, which could be used to teach concepts in math, social studies, and science. In the afternoon, the teachers focused on an activity kit titled, “Afterschool Universe,” which holds twelve activities that focus on looking at the universe beyond our solar system.

“Today in Afterschool Universe, they will be going outside, and they will reenact the lifecycle of a star, the birth of a star, how it forms, as they wander around on the playground, and if they come in contact with somebody, gravity attracts," explained Casto, "So they will go back to their classroom to do these activities, and the types of activities we do really fulfill the new science standards and the next generation way of teaching science and math.”

The small group of teachers left the workshop this week feeling positive about the changes they’ll now be able to implement in their own lesson plans.