Boston — Sept. 14, 2015 — Maine has become the first state in the nation to offer scholarships for a new cutting-edge middle school science course that takes students on a simulated mission to the International Space Station (ISS) where they learn STEM concepts and skills as if they were part of the station crew. In collaboration with the Maine Space Grant Consortium and the Perloff Family Foundation, The Virtual High School (VHS, Inc.) is currently offering 12 scholarships for Maine students interested in participating in SpaceStationAcademy. The application deadline is October 15, 2015.
Space Station Academy was developed by VHS, a nonprofit empowering schools with the industry’s best online learning programs, in collaboration with Maine teachers, the Maine Space Grant Consortium and the Technical Education Research Center (TERC), a nonprofit research and development organization. “This course offers realistic training and on-orbit experiences to make the students feel as if they are real astronauts,” said VHS Development Director Dan Barstow. “And we’re giving students a chance to have a glimpse of life on the International Space Station.”
The 15-week course includes interactives, videos, interviews with astronauts and updates from the real ISS. The five course modules cover three main phases. The first phase is “preflight training” in which students explore the design, structure and primary objectives of the ISS. They also learn about orbits, launch vehicles and life in space. Next, students experience a simulated launch to the ISS in the Soyuz where the crew welcomes them.
The next few modules cover the second phase, “on-orbit explorations.” Students complete a variety of activities, including an investigation of the effects of prolonged weightlessness via an experiment to visualize loss of bone density and to devise an exercise plan based on the physiological barriers of space travel. Students use cutting-edge tools to observe Earth from space, and they are tasked with completing several virtual missions around the station such as building a robotic arm and performing a spacewalk to repair a broken solar panel.
The final module is the “post-flight” phase where students face the challenge of reentering the atmosphere. They review technologies and skills associated with safely dealing with the friction of reentry and the methods used for landing safely on Earth. As a culminating activity, they prepare a Mission Space Report that showcases the benefits of space exploration in the domains of life science, Earth science and physical science.
“The activities not only cultivate science interests, but also develop students’ research, teamwork and communication skills,” said Barstow. “Space Station Academy emphasizes core disciplinary ideas, cross cutting concepts and science practices in life, physical and Earth science. The course is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, and, as Maine was a lead state partner in NGSS development, it’s a perfect fit.”
Students can participate in Space Station Academy during regularly scheduled study hall sessions, in a classroom period that their school allocates for the course or as an independent study at home. The course requires about five hours per week for the duration of the semester-long course. VHS also offers a shorter 4-week version of the course, as an extra-curricular activity. Students will be required to hone and expand their STEM skills by using mathematics and computational thinking, analyzing and interpreting data, planning and carrying out investigations, using evidence in arguments and much more.
Barstow has an extensive background in experiential and immersive learning and is a nationally regarded expert in Earth and space science as well as climate and energy education. Among his many accomplishments are founding and directing the Center for Earth and Space Science Education at TERC and serving as president of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. He has also been a principal investigator and co-principal investigator on more than a dozen NSF and NASA-funded projects.
“In addition to bringing core STEM concepts to life, Space Station Academy is a great career‐awareness program,” said Barstow. “We’ve designed the learning experience to inspire students to consider careers as astronauts, scientists, engineers or one of the thousands of emerging new jobs in the aerospace industry. It’s an example of the VHS mission to help schools broaden their curriculum and to offer students opportunities to consider future career pathways through diverse, multifaceted and in-depth learning.”
For more information on scholarships for Maine’s Space Station Academy, visit SpaceStationAcademy.org or contact Dan Barstow at DBarstow@thevhs.org or by calling
About The Virtual High School, Inc.
The Virtual High School (VHS, Inc.) is an online learning pioneer. Since 1996, the nonprofit organization has set the standard for quality online education. VHS provides courses taught in global online classrooms for secondary school students and online professional development for educators. The organization also meets the unique educational needs of schools through custom course development and individualized course offerings. VHS design and delivery standards are the model used by the National Education Association in their recommended standards for online learning. The organization has won numerous awards, including the Stockholm Challenge Award for Global Excellence in Information Technology and is a three-time winner of the United States Distance Learning Association’s (USDLA) award for Excellence in Programming and Excellence in Best Practices. For more information, visit www.TheVirtualHighSchool.org or call (978) 897-1900. # # #