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Center for Educational Technologies projects have ended (except Challenger Learning Center) and are no longer funded.

NASATalk Site Provides Window to Education Resources, Discussion

Sep 16, 2010

A website created by the Center for Educational Technologies helps teachers and parents take advantage of the vast educational resources available from NASA, and it's a perfect place to visit at the beginning of the school year.

The NASATalk online collaborative gives educators a virtual place to talk about the many opportunities available from the space agency. As a collaborative, the site invites teachers, parents or informal educators such as Scout or 4-H leaders to fully participate, whether communicating with other educators, reading blogs from fellow teachers and educational researchers, or even creating their own blog. The vibrant site thrives through the contributions of its participants.

NASATalk is designed and managed by the NASA-sponsored Classroom of the Future at the Center for Educational Technologies. The idea for NASATalk grew out of a 2006 Classroom of the Future educational technologies study that profiled effective use of new tools to support STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning with primary focus on NASA science and technology innovators. As a result of the guidelines for best practice that resulted from the study, NASA wanted to test a web-based collaborative where educators could discuss how they use NASA resources in their classroom along with what works and what doesn't. The NASATalk community has bloomed, and among its noteworthy features is the STELLAR Awards, which recognize teachers for their exemplary use of NASA educational materials.

A number of sections provide paths to NASA resources. The NASA Connections area lists educational programs and products NASA provides. Other sections deal with tech topics, articles, blogs, and NASA careers.

NASATalk is ripe with helpful discussions. For instance, one recent article explored all of the podcasting resources NASA offers. The article guided educators to NASA's podcasting home page. Then the article explained the six types of NASA podcasts, gave tips for using podcasts, and highlighted some effective podcasts.

The article ended by inviting readers to share effective podcasts they have used and to comment on the ones in the article—this is where the collaborative nature of the site kicks in. More than 35 comments later, the NASATalk community had provided a thorough review of the plusses and minuses of the four podcasts suggested in the article. For instance, one poster said, "The rover podcast was a great length for using in the middle school classroom. I could use this in class in a discussion of accelerometers. I try to show my students what they are used for besides earthquakes. I would also use this to demonstrate how versatile data can be and how humans often default to interpreting data in terms that we are familiar with rather than always running something through a computer model. I could challenge students to come up with value for the data or other uses for data processed in this way."

Another teacher gave this review: "I found each of the NASA podcasts to meet the highest standard of the Engage and Educate Podcast Rubric. I like to present podcasts to the entire class, followed by classroom discussion. The podcasts which I reviewed varied in length, and through experience, I've found that 3-5 minutes is a good listening time span for grades 3-6. I really enjoyed the Kepler presentation, over 14 minutes long; once again, I would present in segments to allow for classroom discussion. If students were listening independently, I would provide a series of investigative questions and encourage them to rewind and search for evidence. Each of the podcasts provided excellent content and so many different paths for continued research and investigation."

Others provided feedback for improvement: "I teach high school mathematics, and I can see how beneficial the podcasts could be to my students. We could use the podcasts on flight and planets to examine trajectories and predictions. The podcasts that I listened to were interesting, but a bit long. I think I would only have my students listen to part of the podcasts to get a background understanding."

New collaboratives arise frequently on NASATalk. Among the newest is the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Robotics collaborative. It discusses how formal and informal educators help students learn STEM subjects through LEGO robotics. This collaborative is moderated by Meri Cummings of the Center for Educational Technologies, who directs the annual FIRST LEGO League robotics tournament for West Virginia. It is being used as an area to share teaching strategies, programming tips, and preparations for upcoming competitions.

NASATalk is free, and registration is required only to comment. For more information e-mail NASATalk.