One way to really get your students excited about a subject is to have them speak directly to an expert. Some of you might be saying, "how do you get an expert in aeronautical engineering to talk to a middle school student?" "How do you get an environmental scientist to talk to a group of middle school students?" It's easier than you think.
My experience began a few years ago when I stumbled upon the NASA Quest site, which is dedicated to helping students interact with NASA scientists. Not only did NASA Quest have a lot of information and lesson plans, it had live, moderated chats with NASA experts. In the following two years my students participated in at least five chats. One was even a Web-based video chat, and when that NASA expert began with, "Hello to Millennium Middle School from NASA," the entire classroom clapped and cheered.
Since then, I keep my eyes open for chats. And I encourage my students to keep an eye out, too. One day a student came in all excited about an upcoming chat with Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web. I thought he had to be mistaken, but no, he wasn't! However, the chat was to be with University students. Needless to say, I wrote the hosting university and begged. The day of the Web-based chat, you could hear a pin drop in my classroom as all eyes and ears were tuned to the monitors, watching the live chat. How wonderful it was when Tim Berners-Lee acknowledged the questions from the only middle school participating, Millennium Middle School of Sanford, FL.
There are also many other sites that allow students to send Email to scientists and get answers back! Some of these are:
Ask the Scientists
A wonderfully comprehensive page with click-able links to many, many sites like: Ask a Solar Physicist, Ask Dr. Geospace, Space Weather, plus NASA mission-related pages, lists of Frequently-Asked Questions, and links to other ask-the-expert sites.
Allows students to send Emails to scientists. And, providing many a teachable moment, are the click-able links providing the answers to Previous Questions such as: "Do any animals besides humans cry to show emotion?" "Why does soap lather?" "Would my clone have the same fingerprints as I do?" and more.
The site says "We are here to provide answers to questions about the Sun and SOHO that are not immediately available in other places!" but warns, "Please don't ask us to do your homework for you!" !
Ask a Librarian
Sponsored by the Library of Congress, it allows users to chat with a librarian on selected areas and also to view L.o.C. collections in its American Memory collection plus "Geography/Maps," "Music/Performing Arts" and many more.
I also encourage my students to write the authors of published Internet articles that they've used in their research,** especially, NASA experts. You'd be surprised at the number of experts that will write back. This year alone, four experts have corresponded with my students, and two became mentors not just for the students but for the entire class. One of these wonderful experts, Oscar Gomiez from NASA Langley, has taken the time to create two PowerPoints for my classes. When I began a lesson with a PowerPoint from NASA entitled "The Basics of Aeronautics — Created for Mrs. Shaw's Classes," the students knew they were important. Not just to me, but with the help of Oscar, they realized that students are important to everyone. And they realized that experts aren't remote geniuses but real people, too.
Students can also read archived chats from past years. For example there's:
Space Team Online QuestChat
The actual chat took place in October, 2000 and features students speaking with Joe Delai, a mechanical engineer from NASA's Kennedy Space Center
December 17, 1999 ATO Webchat
Two NASA engineers, playing the roles of Wilbur and Orville Wright, answered students' questions about that first flight. The kids had a great time and talked about that chat for a long time after. Note that NASA promises this chat will be repeated live as part of this year's Centennial of Flight commemorations.
**Please remember to always use safe Internet and Email practices with participating students. My students use moderated, filtered email from Epals. These accounts are created with a system that allows the teacher to check Emails to and from students.
Email: Rosemary Shaw