What Does it Mean to Reach for the Stars?

It was a typical, busy Friday afternoon when I received an email from Dr. Jeff Goldstein, Director of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.  I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had never, to my knowledge, received an email from him before.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there was a program that provided an opportunity for elementary and high school students to design an experiment that would be flown in space!  Before I was able to wrap my mind around what I had read, I was on the phone, listening to the sound of the line ringing.  When Dr. Goldstein answered, he marveled at how quickly I can read an email.  He soon found out, however, that I hadn’t read thoroughly, as I had many, many questions.  By the end of our first phone conversation, I had a solid understanding of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP).  The biggest obstacle to our participation, it seemed, would be funding.

I was pleased to discover that Indiana Space Grant Consortium was willing and able to fund a large community from Indiana.  At that point, I had organized a science community collaboration and after a few minor bumps, we were fully funded and ready to go! 

From there, Avicenna students were put into groups to brainstorm about various topics, but ultimately, the groups worked together on each proposed experiment.  I reached out to the larger science community in North America and was absolutely floored by the positive response that I received.  I organized a panel of scientists with expertise in various biological fields and was even fortunate enough to receive local help from Indiana University Northwest.  Dr. Harold Olivey went above and beyond in helping the students with some of our questions and concerns relating to feasibility of various proposed topics, and the kids are still marveling about the “neat” lab equipment they were able to see and use at the university. 

We were able to meet with our collaborators in Anderson so that our community could interact in person, not just electronically or telephonically.  The students were able to interact and exchange ideas.  It was a rewarding experience for me, as an educator, to see the kids break out of their shell and communicate with other students whom they’ve never met in person before. 

From the very beginning, I understood the magnitude of SSEP and the significance that it would have not only on a national or historical level, but also for the individual students that were fortunate enough to participate in the program.  We were able to extend to our students the opportunity to get into a real lab, meet with real, professional scientists and work together with people they only recently met on creating an experimental design.  SSEP gave our students an opportunity to emulate professional researchers.  The lessons that the students were already learning in the classroom were expanded upon and many new lessons were introduced.  At Avicenna Academy, our fifth and sixth grade students were introduced to and researched topics that were at or surpassing the ninth and tenth grade level of life sciences.  I am so proud at their ability to not only comprehend the topics, but also at the gusto in which they proceeded working once they realized the topics they chose were “complicated”.

The added bonus to all of this is that Avicenna Academy Science Community Collaboration’s experiment will fly aboard the historical, last-ever flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.  After this final flight, it will be retired to a museum, never to enter orbit again.  The end of the current US Space Shuttle program has gained a lot of publicity and space scientists across this country have been speaking out publicly about the importance of continued space research.  In fact, Captain Wendy Lawrence, former NASA astronaut, came to Northwest Indiana to speak at the Reaching for the Stars event in April.  She spoke directly to students about the importance of STEM education and what she believed to be the future of space science.  One of our very own SSEP student participants, Avicenna Academy’s Jenna Rifai (6th grade) won the opportunity to ask Captain Lawrence a question.  I hope to be posting a video of that interaction in the near future.

The experimental design and mission patch design competition are now over and now we are able to progress with laboratory science!  Our students are writing hypotheses, fine tuning their proposals and are beginning to do the ground control experiments.  I see in them a newfound respect for the work that goes in to science.  There is a marked difference in their thought processes.  It is evident that now they think deeper and they work together in solving problems. 

I am so happy to have the opportunity to serve as the Director of our community’s involvement in SSEP and I am so very, very grateful to each and every person who contributed to our SSEP journey.  I urge you to continually support advancement of STEM education and think outside of the box as it pertains to ways to educate our students.  I have spoken with many colleagues about the current shift in education that we’re seeing in our nation.  The reality is that there is a great need for problem-solving skills.  While investigation and research are crucial, we need to help our students develop MORE skills and abilities.  Specifically, we need to teach them how to think, how to use the information that they find and why it’s important.  Programs like SSEP  get them excited, involved and motivated to learn.  This program has truly given our students the opportunity to reach for the stars!

Please feel free to visit back here often to see what we’re up to in the laboratory.  If you’re interested in discussing our involvement in SSEP further, please feel free to contact me.

~Amanda Arceo

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In Their Own Words…

I asked some of the students to share a few words about their experiences with SSEP so that I may post them on the blog.  So far, I’ve received:

-My name is Heba Abuzer and I’m in 6th grade.  My science project proposal is about paramecium.  From my research, I learned about Gause’s Exclusion Principle.  Recently, we went on a trip to IUN and Dr.Olivey showed us some interesting things.  Working as a team also made my confidence rise.  SSEP is important to me because it’s more of a challenge for me and my class.  I’m grateful to be in this program.

-My name is Maria Khan and I’m in 5th grade.  One of the groups I am in is proposing to study the effect of microgravity on two different types of yeast in a mixed culture.  I learned that yeast produce alcohol and alcohol has a negative effect on asexual reproduction…I also went on a field trip to IUN and I learned many new things there.  This project is important because it tests a very important issue: the struggle for existence. 

-My name is Jenna Rifai and I am in 6th grade.  I am part of SSEP and I am going to tell you a little about  my experience.  One of my project proposals is about the effect of microgravity on the population growth of fission and brewer’s yeast in a mixed culture.  We are doing the same experiment that G.F.Gause did in 1932…I believe this would be the first experiment of its kind to go to space. 

Being part of SSEP is an amazing experience to me.  It’s education and a great opportunity.  We have been working very  hard on our projects.  We went to Anderson to meet the other students that we are collaborating with and we got to learn more about some of their ideas.

We also talked to a professor, Dr.Olivey.  He talked with us about our experiments.  It has been an excellent experience to be part of SSEP.  Avicenna Academy is “reaching for the stars”.

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Avicenna Students Spend Time at IUN

Today Avicenna’s members of the AASCC took a field trip to Indiana University Northwest to explore the lab space and learn a little bit about embryonic development (amongst other things!) from Dr.Harold Olivey.  The children were able to get a much closer look at chick embryos and were even able to see the still-beating heart inside of the chest of a four day old chick embryo.  In addition, the kids took a tour of the biology department, learned a little bit about fruit flies , peeked into a green house, checked out some dessicated fungi and viewed some “glow in the dark” (marked) embryonic neurons under a microscope. 

 In addition, this week I’ve added four more people to the selection panel.  This panel will be reading over all of AASCC’s proposals and selecting the top three to move on to the national panel in Washington, DC.  Our current panel members come from: Kansas State University (food preservation specialist), Gannon University (plant specialist), Dalhousie University (“brine shrimp” specialist), Stanford University (butterfly specialist) and Northwest Indiana (cardiologist).

 I will be sending out emails to AASCC’s Avicenna student parents to give them more information about the current status of their students’ proposals.  There’s a lot to be done in the next couple of weeks and I know we’re all looking forward to the selection process.

 The following photographs are from today’s field trip…

The blue “dot” of liquid on that parafilm square is the volume of liquid we’ll be allowed in our well.

This lucite block will serve as our wells for the ground controls for our experiment. 

That lucite block is sitting next to an iPhone.

This is a view of the block from above.  We will have one of these wells for our experiment in space.

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We’re Making Progress!

Well, we’re chugging right along with our SSEP participation.  The students have moved forward with three solid projects and I’m hoping to squeeze at least one or two more in before our time is up.  We will be submitting two proposals that look at ecological interaction between two species and a third proposal dealing with butterfly development and behavior.  Some of our previous ideas had to be re-thought because of a recent, unforseen change in the parameters of our lab.  See?!  This truly is real science in the real-world.  No worries, though!  We’ve quickly adjusted and have moved forward quite nicely.

 In addition, tomorrow is our first SSEP related field trip.  We’re going to be heading down to visit with our friends at Life Learning Co-Op.  Next week we will be heading to IUN to meet with a professor in the biology department who will be lending his expertise, advice and ultimately lab space.  In addition, he’ll be showing our students some neat specimen to aid in their understanding of bird embryonic development.  That same professor will be meeting with us during our after-school SSEP Science Club meeting next week. 

 We are very fortunate to have the outpouring of support that we’ve been receiving.  Our students are learning so much and seem so excited about their projects.  They’re showing true ownership and are blossoming into quite the critical thinkers!  I’m very, very proud of our students.  🙂

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Collaborators & AASCC Update

This week we received word from both IUN and the Jackson Laboratory that they would love to work with us on our project!  This is wonderful news as it increases the resources available to our students.  We will be meeting up with our collaborators in Anderson, IN on Wednesday of next week.  They’re working with Anderson University’s biology department, Hoosier Microbiological Laboratories and Yale University’s E. coli bank.  Collectively, we have an amazing wealth of resources available to us for our project.  We’re well on our way.

Speaking of which, Avicenna’s students have already begun brain storming ideas and researching various topics.  So far our groups are focusing on paramecium growth, yeast metabolism, embroyonic development (we’re still trying to determine if we want to focus on zebrafish, mice or frogs) and we’ve got a final group that’s considering protein crystallization.  I’m very excited at all of the interesting ideas they’re coming up with and I look forward to working with three professors from IUN’s biology department come up with a plan to help the students fine-tune their research.

If there are any members of the community who are science or medical professionals interested in donating some time or lab space, please let me know.  I’d love to have more adult members of our very own community participating.

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Student Scientists

The students have been given paperwork introducing SSEP, NanoRacks‘ minilab that we will be utilizing and the list of NASA approved sample materials.  As we begin making progress with group selection and topic selection, I will be posting more.  Please stay tuned!

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INSGC mentions Avicenna

I received a google alert which contained a link to a page on the Indiana Space Grant Consortium’s website.  It’s all about us!  Read here.

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Collaboration with LLC in Anderson, IN

I’ve begun collaborating with the Life Learning Cooperative in Anderson, Indiana.  We are in the process of going over all of the paperwork and organizing student teams.  We will be setting up some webcam time with our kids soon and I’m hoping to be able to organize a visit sometime within the upcoming weeks.  We shall see if we’re able to make it work.  Enjoy your spring break!

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Avicenna Science Lifts Off

Avicenna Academy was granted an award from the Indiana Space Grant Consortium which will allow us to participate in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP).   When we return from spring break, we will be jumping head first into this project.  I invite you to follow along with our journey by becoming a follower on this blog or by checking back frequently.  I will be asking students to periodically give me updates, in their own words, and I will post those here as well.  Here we go!!!

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