NASA and the SETI Institute recently announced that the Cobb County School District is one of only 14 school districts in eight states to participate in the 2019 NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program.
Out of the 28 teachers selected nationwide, four Cobb County School teachers will serve as NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors. The teachers are Berkil Alexander of Kennesaw Mountain High School, Nikki Bisesi of Hillgrove High School, Philip Matthews of Kennesaw Mountain High School and Season Stalcup of Wheeler High School.
The NASA Ambassador program is a professional development opportunity for high school science teachers designed to improve science teaching and learning and increase student engagement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
As ambassadors, the Cobb teachers will join fellow educators from California, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, and two from Columbus, Georgia for training in astrophysics, planetary science content and pedagogy. Their training will include a week-long immersion experience at NASA’s science research aircraft facility in Palmdale, California with participation in research flights onboard NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP airliner fitted with a 2.5-meter (100-inch) telescope and using a suite of seven cameras and spectrographs to study celestial objects at infrared wavelengths. SOFIA operates during 10-hour overnight science missions at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet, above more than 99-percent of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere that blocks infrared light from reaching ground-based observatories.
“NASA’s SOFIA observatory provides a fantastic opportunity for teachers to better understand and appreciate the research process by interacting with scientists and mission crew members,” said Dr. Dana Backman, AAA program principal investigator. “The teachers can then take what they learn back to their classrooms, schools, and school districts, conveying the value of scientific research and adding real-world content to high school learning environments. The AAA’s first-hand experiences also can illuminate the wide variety of STEM career paths available to students.”
After their training, the Cobb teachers, with the help of program staff, will implement a NASA science-oriented electromagnetic spectrum and infrared astronomy curriculum module in their classrooms. The module is developed by the SETI Institute, which has managed the Ambassador program since its inception in 2011. Cobb’s teachers are part of the first NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors class open to teachers outside of California.
“We are so proud of the teachers that were selected to be a part of the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors Program,” said Christian Cali, Cobb County School District science supervisor. “Their experiences flying into the stratosphere on NASA’s SOPHIA will provide Cobb students with a chance to make real-world connections with the concepts they are learning in the classroom.”