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Exploring to Inspire STEM Education

By March 24, 2013 No Comments

Expeditions to the extreme limits of our world push the bounds of human knowledge and capabilities. By expanding our understanding of the earth, exploration offers a unique storytelling platform that inspires people to investigate the world around them, to question and to innovate.

Most people will never visit the deep sea or summit the world’s tallest peaks, and glimpses of these places provided by expeditions allow people to appreciate and champion these environments. Most importantly, exploration provides an opportunity to expose new generations to careers that contribute to scientific advancement and environmental stewardship.

NASA’s extensive education and outreach program currently brings missions to the International Space Station closer to home with STEM on Station, a series of videos featuring ISS astronauts demonstrating the same basic STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Technology) concepts taught in middle and high school. Students from around the world can even compete in SpaceLabcontests to design science experiments that astronauts will carry out on the ISS, giving them first-person experience in pushing the limits of science and technology.

The European Space Agency organizes contests to design and launch working satellites into orbit for high school and university students. Challenger Learning Centersin the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and South Korea immerse students in hands-on simulated space missions teaching teamwork and critical thinking skills. Using missions as teaching tools, these programs expose students to STEM, but missions can be used creatively to improve fitness and nutrition, as in Mission X’s ‘train like an astronaut’ program.

Thanks to education initiatives like these, most people are more familiar with outer space than with the deep sea, making ocean exploration an ideal platform for future education initiatives. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Ocean Explorer website offers daily logs, videos, and interactive maps to follow their data-collecting expeditions in real-time. For educators, NOAA’s Expedition Education Modules use multimedia-based lesson plans to simulate the daily discoveries and scientific techniques that scientists and explorers experience. Letting students experience first-hand the thrill of discovery, Dr. Robert Ballard’s expedition team streams discoveries live to classrooms around the world through their interactive Nautilus Liveprogram.

New technology allows us to explore extreme environments remotely, but the human element of the intrepid explorer is key. National Geographic Explorersare a prime example of the capacity for exploration to not only push the limits of science, but also educate. Through real-time blogs, tweets, and photojournalism, we can join the expeditions of these modern-day adventurers and role models.

Unlike robots, human explorers bring back personal accounts we can relate to about their amazing experiences. Children grow up wanting to be astronauts or deep sea divers, not robots, dreaming up fantastical futures. These experiences of discovery illuminated by explorers may inspire people to become better stewards of their environment, or even spark ideas that change the way our world works.

Contributed by

Samantha Wishnak
Education and Outreach Coordinator
Blue Marble Exploration
Monterey, CA, USA