Students Have Questions, Astronauts Have Answers

Students talk with astronauts aboard the international space station

(Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood)

“Station, this is Houston. Are you ready?” The radio crackled. “Houston, we are ready. Over.”

As teachers, we are always looking for new ways to inspire our students to make authentic connections between what we teach them in the classroom and what happens in real life.

Last week, dozens of animated middle school students of military families gathered at Department of Education headquarters to talk with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Students watched in amazement as peers chatted with a floating Commander Mike Fossum via a giant screen in ED’s auditorium. The event was made possible by NASA’s Teaching From Space program.

The International Space Station is the product of work by 16 countries spread over four continents, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, Russia, Brazil, and 11 countries from the European Space Agency. As such, the event was a unique way to initiate International Education Week, which begins today.  

But it’s the other numbers that catch students’ attention the most: At almost 1 million pounds, the International Space Station circles the Earth every 90 minutes and has made 57,361 trips around the Earth.

The facts are astounding and the novelty, thrilling. This was one time when school didn’t feel like school and students were witnessing the synergy between lessons in the classroom and real world experience.

“Do laptops and devices with hard drives work the same in space or are they more likely to crash?” asked an 8th grader. “Do you have to speak other languages on the International Space Station to understand each other?” asked a 10th grader. Students were bursting with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related questions that called up a global perspective.

We know that STEM subjects are critical to the study of space, but here students learned that if astronauts can’t share ideas internationally and communicate in different languages, then the work simply doesn’t get done.

The need to simultaneously heighten our students’ exposure to science and technology and develop their global competencies hit home. There is no question that young people want to make it happen. My only question is, when will we catch up with them?

International Education Week is a joint initiative between the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of State. To learn more about the live In-Flight Education Downlinks and watch the event, click here.

Claire Jellinek is a high school social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

1 Comment

  1. What an amazing opportunity for students to engage with astronauts in real time. It is experiences like these that students remember for a lifetime. I was left wondering – is there a common language(s) used on the space station? Thank you for sharing.

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