Friday, April 25, 2008

NASA Quest Challenges!

One of NASA's great STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education initiatives is NASA Quest, a series of online explorations or "challenges" that involve students in "authentic scientific and engineering processes" with solutions that "relate to issues encountered daily by NASA personnel." With a couple of plug-ins, a free download and some planning, your middle schoolers can join an exploration and participate in webcasts, chats and other interactive features.

In the explorations, students work in teams, taking on roles that parallel those of NASA researchers. To help guide students' research and process, experts at NASA have regular contact with them through Q&As, chats, webcasts and feedback left on the Challenge website. These NASA Quest Challenges occur twice a school year in 6-8 week sessions. Usually, the Challenge starts with registered students getting a question that mirrors a real NASA mission in progress. Students then "work on preliminary solutions, based on research, as NASA experts provide 'real time' critiquing. Final designs are developed after student obtain constructive feedback and encouragement." All of the final student work and similar projects are featured in a Webcast at the end of the Challenge.

To participate in the live events, you'll need to download and install RealPlayer (a how-to page at the NASA Quest site gives clear guidance and up-to-date links). The how-to page for joining ilive events has links to test your installed RealPlayer. Once it is installed and tested, you can click any link available to you for the Challenge your students are registered for. To chat, you need a browser that supports and has Java enabled. Links for chats are provided at specific events but the instructions page also has step-by-step instructions for joining. Other plug-ins or programs you may need for other parts of the Challenges include the Shockwave plug-in and Adobe Acrobat Reader, both free.

In Fall 2007, the HiRISE Challenge had students examining images of Mars to find signs of water and possible life. It was repeated this spring and wraps up in May. The LCROSS Cratering the Moon Challenge wraps up this month. The LIMA Quest Challenge on Antarctic research is in midstream and finishes in May. More details on these and other missions can be found at the NASA Quest website.

SOURCE: "Welcome to NASA Quest!" 6/2007
photo courtesy of emmyboop, used under this Creative Commons license

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