About 70 educators, including some from as far away as Georgia, attended a sold-out educator workshop at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge Saturday morning to learn about rockets and engineering.
Led by Brandon Rodriguez, an educator professional development specialist at JPL, along with coordinator Paula Partida, the three-hour workshop provided teachers with insight on how to get their students started using engineering design processes. Teachers of younger children were given tips on how to guide them toward building inexpensive homemade rockets.
The Next General Science Standards concepts and aligned activities and lessons offered by JPL’s Education Office Education Resource Center can be used in the fourth through 12th grades.
Partida, who has been working at JPL’s resource center for 20 years, said the teachers seem to be excited to participate in the workshop.
Rodriguez works in his role at JPL in collaboration with Texas State University. Before working at JPL, he taught high school chemistry and physics. On Saturday, he stood on stage inside the lab’s von Karman Auditorium prepping the teachers on rocket construction.
Rodriguez briefly referenced one or two graphics on a projection screen then had the teachers experiment in the field with their rocket designs that could be assembled with readily available, inexpensive supplies such as old PVC piping.
“The idea is to get young grade teachers to feel confident doing a hands-on activity,” Rodriguez said.
The educational workshops exist as a legacy project with the resource center. It had been folded due to lack of staffing, according to Rodriguez. But in the past three years, Rodriguez said he and Partida “breathed new life” into the program. Now registration for the Saturday workshops, which are scheduled about twice a month, fills up quickly.
As the workshop moved outside with their stomp rockets, Rodriguez said the goal for the elementary and middle school teachers was to have successful launches. For the high school teachers, the goal was to predict how well the flight would go.
“You guys are just ready to rain rockets on JPL,” Rodriguez jokingly told the group before the stomp rocket launch began. Many successfully launched 20 to 30 feet in the air, while some traveled higher.
Michel Lacerda, a graduate student at Georgia Institute of Technology, was invited by Partida to visit JPL, and he was satisfied with the trajectory of his stomp rocket. At Georgia Tech, Lacerda is a tutor involved with an outreach program called Innovative Mars Exploration Education and Technology (IMEET), a project with 150 local high school students
“We are in the process of expanding the program to California,” he said about hopeful future collaborations with JPL. “It will impact the teaching of technology and space for high school students, including robotics, 3-D printing, programming and UAV control. We have a lot to bring back to Georgia.”
Wearing a replica graphic T-shirt stating “Run EMC2,” a scientific ode to 1980s hip-hop group Run DMC, Oscar Espinoza finished Saturday’s workshop creating different straw rockets with the others seated at his table. Espinoza is a seventh-grade science teacher at KIPP Comienza Community Prep in Huntington Park and has participated in JPL Education Resource Center workshops before, including one for certification. Also, he added, some of his students have also had an opportunity to learn at summer space camps.
Espinoza said that because Huntington Park is an under-served community, his students’ access and exposure to information and resources is limited.