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NASA program begins

Jim Fitzgerald stood before a crowd at Solon Springs school holding a miniature space shuttle replica Wednesday morning. He explained how the crew opens the space shuttle's doors to release heat and how the shuttle faces the Earth as it orbits. S...

Jim Fitzgerald stood before a crowd at Solon Springs school holding a miniature space shuttle replica Wednesday morning.

He explained how the crew opens the space shuttle's doors to release heat and how the shuttle faces the Earth as it orbits.

Several of the fourth through sixth graders in the audience raised their hands with questions. When a chance came to participate in a demonstration, nearly every hand in the audience was raised.

Fitzgerald described life on the International Space Station and showed pictures from the Space Shuttle Endeavor crew's recent mission.

An astronaut could pick up a car and move it like a suitcase in zero gravity, he said.

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"Whoa," the students exclaimed.

Fitzgerald, an educator from the NASA Education Services Project, visited the school in support of its Explorer School partnership with NASA.

Solon Springs school was one of 25 across the nation chosen this spring as a NASA Explorer School.

It's is a three year partnership between NASA chosen schools. NASA started the program in 2003 as a way to support its goal of encourage students to pursue education and careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A team of Solon Springs educators spent a week this summer at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, to get an introduction to the program.

Wednesday's events were the students first connection with a NASA educator . The entire day had a rocketry theme. Fitzgerald worked with teachers in the morning followed by presentations to students. After school, he addressed a family night event followed by demonstrations by students and parent volunteers.

Junior Salann Gilbert and her chemistry partner Kyle Posine demonstrated a Mentos and Diet Coke explosion.

It's fun to show science experiments to the younger kids. The Explorer School program is more geared for them, she said.

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"Hopefully, it's going to help out our school a lot," Gilbert said.

Solon Springs does a fine job teaching science, but the teachers are excited about the chance to incorporate the NASA program into their classrooms, she said, adding that the program could help teachers do a better job interesting elementary and junior high kids.

Space is a topic Solon Springs students only learn about in the lower grades, said junior Alex Rowe. As a student interested in science, he's excited about the NASA connection.

Teachers are preparing to incorporate NASA concepts into their lessons, said math teacher Lynn Lesneski. She's planning to teach her students a lesson learned at Glenn Research Center this summer that involves taking measurements and graphing them for a mock lunar landing, she said.

Students in the lower grades are being encouraged to participate in the Rocketry Reading Program. Those who read enough books can participate in a special meeting with a NASA astronaut who will visit the school during the program's official kick-off in November.

Wednesday's presentation was meant to introduce students to the Explorer School program. They are excited about having a connection with NASA and are asking a lot of questions, she said.

"They don't realize what's going to happen," she said. "The trick is to get NASA materials into the classroom."

Initially, Solon Springs school is concentrating on getting science/technology teachers acquainted with NASA materials, but NASA can be incorporated into any classroom program, Lesneski said.

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Wednesday morning, Fitzgerald demonstrated puffy-head, bird-legs syndrome to teachers during their workshop. Astronauts experience the syndrome when traveling in space because zero gravity causes blood to shift from the legs to the head. Fitzgerald demonstrated the syndrome by having two teachers sit against the wall with their legs in the air while other teachers measured their legs and neck circumference. Their legs shrunk and their necks expanded similar to what astronauts' encounter on a mission, Lesneski said.

The experiment could be incorporated in health, physical education, math or biology programs. "Any teacher can be involved," she said.

Parents also are interested in the NASA Explorer School partnership. Several parents brought their children back to the school Wednesday evening to see the presentation and demonstrations during family night, said Keith Nordsgard, a parent who volunteered for the evening.

At times, more students crowded round Nordskog's demonstration booth than he could handle. Science is important, and if it is made entertaining, students will more often gravitate toward the field, he said.

"I think we're very fortunate to have something like that down here," he said. "I'm interested to see what else they have through the school year for this. I'm just really happy our school took the time to write the grant."

Much of NASA's educational content is designed for students in grades 4 to 9, but Solon Springs' staff plan to incorporate the NASA program at every grade level.

The NASA partnership provides its explorer schools with professional development during the school year, student programs relating to NASA's missions, access to NASA online educational tools and up to $17,500 in grant funds for purchasing technology tools, according to NASA's Explorer School Web site. The official kick-off is scheduled for Nov. 28. Local and state dignitaries will be invited to participate.

Anna Kurth covers education. Call her at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail kurth@superiortelegram

.com.

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