Two stars from the other side of the globe explore GLOBE to chart their futures


In the spring of 2017, the GLOBE Program—an international science education initiative funded by NASA and supported by The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the US Department of State—held six regional Student Research Symposia where teachers and students from schools across the country shared the results of their field investigations using GLOBE Program data collection protocols.  

In this series of feature stories, we profile some of the teacher/student teams who presented at these symposia. 

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Far too often, the challenge for GLOBE educators is to search through students’ disillusion, disconnection, and lack of faith in the future to find a flicker of curiosity about numbers and the nature of things, a spark in need of a breath of oxygen to become a viable interest in mathematics and the sciences.

Northeast SRS
Andrea and Andy at the Northeast/Mid-
Atlantic SRS

Yet some students, like Chinese high school exchange students Andrea and Andy, arrive with their math and science passion in full flame. For those learners, GLOBE teacher and parent mentors perceive right away that their job is to keep piling on the proper fuel and watch that bonfire reach into the sky.

Andy and Andrea are both strongly driven students who knew when they were quite young that they wanted to spend some of their secondary education in America. Andrea grew up in Beijing, a city with choking air pollution, so she already knows what career she wants after high school and college: environmental engineering. Andy is drawn more toward math and programming as a career, but, like Andrea, he soaks up any and all math and science activities and courses he can get his hands on. (By the way, don’t even kid Andy about the words “geek” or “nerd”—to him, by now, it’s not an old joke, or a bad joke, or a sad joke, but just a “get over it already” joke—you can feel his disdain for the words right through the telephone).

With America, academic strengths, and careers all firmly in sight, Andy and Andrea had one big decision to make: which U.S. high school should they attend?

Andrea and Andy’s “super team” member number one

Nishita Desai is a kind of science guru at Rutgers Preparatory School in Somerset, New Jersey. “I teach biology, chemistry, and two elective topics on human disease and cancer biology, typically in the upper grades,” she said. But because Rutgers Prep is a K-12 school and science is a high priority curriculum, Nishita coaches and mentors teachers across the grade span, integrating a schoolwide, systemic philosophy of teaching science to even the youngest students. She believes that you can’t separate the S, T, E, and M from STEM. “The way we present it, you teach science and weave in some math and tech as many components that are interrelated.”

“Another way I teach science differently,” Nishita said, “if I’m teaching biology to kids who might not want to learn science, but they want to go into business, I ask them what their role would be as a businessperson if you ever worked at a science company? We come up with fictitious business names and stories and they join in the fun.”

Two years ago, Nishita introduced the GLOBE Program to her school by taking students on a field trip to NASA to get accustomed to some of the protocols. Initial interest was low, but exchange student Andrea was fascinated by the many NASA protocols that could be used for potentially endless types of environmental studies.

“Andrea got so into it that we went to a conference in Washington related to global weather exchange and such,” said Nishita. Andrea heard about John Moore of the Palmyra Cove Nature Park, a GLOBE Partner, who invited them to a two-week training at the Park, where they received NASA protocol equipment for Rutgers Prep to use in classrooms. (We’ll hear more from John Moore a bit later.)

Andrea told her friend Andy about GLOBE, and the regional student research symposium that were inviting students to present research projects in the spring of 2017. Invitation, and challenge, immediately accepted.

Northeast SRS
Andrea describes their GLOBE research during
the SRS peer review session

“The project we took to the GLOBE regional symposium is called Escaping the Heat Island,” Andrea explained. “We live south of New Jersey, very near to Newark. We wanted to observe a heat island effect, the abnormal temperature in city areas from skyscrapers, buildings, and the movement of the wind. There are many causes that lead to the difference of temperature” in this city of islands, she said.

“Our thesis,” she continued, “is although we were looking at a global scale, we wanted to nail it down to a local level, like around the Riverton Canal near us, how does temperature vary on different sides of the canal, or different parts of campus, in areas of vegetation, where there is bare land, or where biodiversity is very high.”

Andy and Andrea collected mounds of surface and air temperature data over a year. “From the Palmyra Center, “Andy said, “we were able to use some measurement and mapping tools like ARC GIS to make hot spot maps.” Then Andy and Andrea recruited college students and drones from Palmyra to fly over specific sites to take temperature readings. “Through ARC Maps,” Andrea said, “they taught us to use that powerful tool to incorporate our data and contrast different sites and definitely see that heat islands can be nailed down to very specific areas. Not necessarily just comparing Newark to Somerset, it could actually compare places with vegetation or no biodiversity.”

The symposium presentation, Andy said, included “a research paper on heat islands, the data we collected using Excel spreadsheets, and demonstrations on how heat islands work. We weren’t limited to just a poster…there’s ARC Maps so we had a computer set up for the presentation to show our maps.”

Andy and Andrea’s “super team” member number two

Exchange students need a host home, and Andrea and Andy hit a triple jackpot in one person: Lanetta Putnal.

While Andrea’s family came with her from China, Lanetta opened her home to Andy, coached the team through their symposium project—and because she is a kindergarten teacher at Rutgers Prep, provided some science context as well. For many hours, Lanetta’s home was the proving ground as Andy and Andrea worked through their heat island thesis.

“Well, I did and did not help them in the prep process,” Lanetta demurs. But when pressed, her role went beyond hosting, providing a workspace, and chaperoning the team to the symposium—and was crucial. “They prepared it themselves. They did have different visions on how to present it—this is what I see, this is what I see,” Lanetta explained. “They ended up in a unified vision. But there was a lot of conversation. Not being involved, I asked them a lot of questions, to give them a chance to practice representing their work, discussion of their findings as they would at the symposium.”

“As it turned out, the challenge wasn’t the content,” Lanetta continued. “They’re both very bright students. The challenge was taking it from Mandarin thoughts into their English language.” Andy and Andrea were accustomed to processing and conceptualizing in Mandarin, and Lanetta recognized that she could provide the English-language “test translator” to see how the students’ concepts and explanations resonated for audiences of students, teachers, and judges for whom English was their first language.

Northeast SRS
Lanetta, Andrea, John, and Andy at the
Northeast/Mid-Atlantic SRS

For their efforts, Andrea and Andy won the Peer Choice Award at the Symposium. Yet, that award was but one prize carried back to Rutgers Prep. The symposium experience recharged the GLOBE Program and environmental issues throughout the school in more than academic ways. Students and teachers now gather and track weather data and surface temperature every day in different places around the campus such as the playground and the turf (academic) field, which is a cause of environmental concern for the school. When constructed, the underside of the field was lined with recycled rubber which radiates heat from the bottom and, according to Lanetta, draws but doesn’t reflect heat. The effects on the biosphere are unknown and concerning.

“All of the projects we did this summer had to be “reduce, reuse, recycle,” Lanetta said. “When children made projects, we asked parents to take pictures of them and then recycle the pieces.”

Andrea has begun an Environmental Protection Club this year and students at Rutger Prep’s upper school are joining WYSE, a youth environment program, that raises money to plant new trees. “Andy and I are both from China and we want to expand influences globally. My family background is in business and finance and I’m the first to get involved in environmental protection. It’s very important to let society know environmental science are not on opposite sides from economy development and social progress. My goal is to mend the gap.”

Teachers at Rutgers Prep want to discuss global climate issues in a more consistent, interdisciplinary way and teach that pollution is not restricted to human-determined boundaries. “In the pre-primary grades,” pre-primary teacher Lanetta said, “if we raise children to think and act differently, that’s the future. We recently had a director of organic farming come in to show the kids different types of soil, like sand and clay.” She shares that her motivation is both educational and personal. “My husband grew up on a big farm with pesticides and he died from leukemia. My son majored in environmental planning.”

Andrea and Andy’s “super team” member number three

John Moore’s history with GLOBE would fill a hefty resume of its own. He was there at the program’s unveiling in 1995. He became an early trainer, and trainer of trainers, and infused GLOBE philosophies and protocols into hundreds of schools. He is an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow Emeritus. He was the 2015 first GLOBE Distinguished Educator Fellow. Through his deep professional networks as educator, researcher, scientist, and administrator, John championed STEM initiatives that led to funding, collaborations, and project leadership that generated new satellite construction and entirely new education models. This year, John was honored by being named Executive Director of Palmyra Cove Nature Park in New Jersey.

But for our story, John is the guy who brought Nishita, Andrea, and Andy to the Nature Park for two weeks for an immersion in GLOBE. “The credit really goes to Andrea,” said John. “Andrea heard about GLOBE, was self-motivated, brought Andy into it. She reached out to me and had questions and she wanted to get her school involved.”

“Her motivation was she wanted to make GLOBE bigger in her school,” John said. “I said if you can find at least one faculty member, I can come there. She picked Nishita. Andrea really drove this whole thing. That led to an opportunity that we are working on with Rowan University on NSF grants that focus on big data. I was in the process of getting 8-10 teachers together, so we invited teachers and Andrea and Andy.”

It also happened that Palmyra Cove was hosting the GLOBE Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Student Research Symposium that May, the event where Andy and Andrea won the peer award for their heat island research project. “The SRS became the next logical step, combining teacher opportunities that directly involve students…it’s my intention with all of these grant opportunities to collaborate on thematic projects that show there are better ways to meet the Next Generation Science Standards with NSF and STEM,” said John.

Said Nishita Desai, “John was really motivational for us. He showed me ways to help my teachers make better sense of STEM that didn’t occur to me before. He showed me how STEM has to be done in a systemic way, and how tech can be used in an interrelated way like ARC GIS, drones, apps, and virtual reality. He also gave us the tools and the equipment to carry out GLOBE at the school. That’s half the battle when you don’t have the funds to pursue science K-12.”

With Nishita, John, and Lanetta acting as catalysts at critical times, Andy and Andrea made a deep impression on their peers at the 2017 Student Research Symposium and now that both are back for a second year at Rutgers Prep (Andrea is a senior, Andy a junior) the students are preparing their research project for the 2018 symposium.

When Andrea and Andy graduate, both will return home to China. With their intelligence, drive, energetic curiosity, and ambitious world views, it seems wise to predict that China and New Jersey will be just the first to hear the names and benefit from the accomplishments of these two stars from the other side of the globe.

—C. Ralph Adler 

 

The GLOBE Program sponsored six 2018 Student Research Symposia funded by NASA Grant No. 80NSC18K0135.  For information on these, visit the 2018 Symposia pages. Bookmark the SRS webpage to stay updated on dates, locations, and application procedures for 2019.  

The 2017 Regional Science Symposia were funded by National Science Foundation Grant No. 1546713. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. 

 



News origin: United States of America


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