Houston Schools’ Students Get Hands-On Experience at Space Center

Written by Patricia Hawke for www.schoolsk-12.com

NASA’s Johnson Space Center Houston recently hosted a two-day BP Physics Challenge for 886 Houston schools’ students, mostly juniors and seniors, with 800 more students expected to attend.  The math and science students either made their own rockets that would be launched outside at the Space Center or conducted other experiments inside.
For those Houston schools’ students, who made their own rockets, they got the full astronaut experience as most rocket launchings were scrubbed due to inclement weather. Unfortunately, the weather quickly turned cold and drizzly, canceling the launch of most rockets.
Two Houston schools’ freshmen, however, did get their rockets launched with different results. Joshua Hawkins, from Booker T. Washington High School, had a successful launch and was thrilled to see how high his rocket soared.  His friend, Keeland Bryant, had a foot-long rocket made of plastic and cardboard. It unfortunately burned during the launch — good thing no astronauts were aboard.
While the rocket launches were either launching or getting scrubbed outdoors, other students were conducting a metal ball drop experiment in order to measure the mass of the Earth. The experiment was chosen to allow the Houston schools’ students to work with straight-line graphs and become more familiar with Isaac Newton’s universal law of gravity, as well as learn several mathematical calculations taught by employees from NASA, BP America, Boeing and the United Space Alliance, who volunteered as mentors for the two-day experience. The Houston schools’ students were amazed to learn how math and science can be applied to their everyday lives.
As exciting as the two-day challenge was, the height of excitement came during a tour of the Space Center for the Houston schools’ students. Bill Nye, known as the science guy, was on hand to meet the students, many of which he hopes to see pursue a career in science, math or engineering. Nye hosted an educational program on PBS from 1992 to 1998 and is an icon to many science and math students — even today. He was instrumental in the creation of the popular CBS “NUMB3RS” television series, where a math genius/professor uses mathematical models to assist the FBI in solving crimes.  For years, Nye pitched ideas to television executives for programs that would give today’s children the incentive to enter science and math careers, connecting the dots between these fields and the real world. At age 51, he still annually applies to NASA for entry into its astronaut program.
At the Space Center, Nye encouraged the Houston schools’ students to change the world, telling them people of all ages like science. They should learn it, because it is fun!
The two-day event was designed to interest students in the fields of math and science. Students from across the Houston schools’ district participated.