Friday, August 7, 2009

Family Science Night at GSFC's Visitor Center inspires discovery

Family Science Night at GSFC's Visitor Center inspires discovery and generates enthusiasm in the wide variety of science and engineering research conducted at Goddard.

During two hours of exciting hands-on activities, NASA EPO professionals, scientists, and engineers work with local middle school students and their families as they explore various science, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) themes.

The goal of Family Science Night is to raise awareness in middle school students and their families of the importance of science in their daily lives. By encouraging parents' active involvement in the evening programs, the importance of STEM fields is enforced as children often share the same passions as their parents. For instance, it is not uncommon for more than one member of a generation of a family to work at NASA at the same time.

"Through Family Science Night, we can improve attitudes toward science. We're working with parents to encourage their children, and to build a strong foundation in science that will serve them through high school, college, and on into working life," said Emile Drobnes, Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) Education and Public Outreach Manager and co-organizer of Family Science Night. "We want to inspire these kids to take science classes, become science-literate adults, and hopefully even pursue STEM career paths. We're also strengthening parent-child relationships."

Educational research shows that parental involvement is key to a student's success. Children who have parents involved in their education consistently perform at higher levels than children whose parents are not involved. Family Science Night is one way to promote a connection between parents, children, and learning.

"While my granddaughter already enjoys science and math more than her other school subjects, Family Science Night increases her enthusiasm for them and fills in gaps in knowledge she may have,"

— said Patricia Ellis, a two-time Family Science Night participant who attends the events with her 13-year-old granddaughter.

"She is not the only one learning because I also get a lot from the program and enjoy the time we spend together."

Family Science Night also seeks to inspire underserved groups. Beginning on March 15, a new series of evenings will kick off that are devoted to the local Hispanic population, a group served by few local programs and underrepresented in STEM career fields. Working with the Goddard Hispanic Heritage Club, the organizers of Family Science Night developed a program that addresses these needs.

Dr. Maria Sol Colina-Trujillo, SDO EPO Coordinator, is certain of the positive impact a bilingual Family Science Night will have on Goddard's Hispanic community.

"The Family Science Night for the Hispanic Community reaches out to local, low income families that are not often exposed to science," said Dr. Colina-Trujillo. "By featuring both languages, the children that are familiar with the science terms in English, as well as the parents that are more familiar with the terms in Spanish, will both benefit from the new approach to science that Family Science Night provides."

In addition, CASA de Maryland, Inc. will support the Family Science Night designed especially for the Hispanic Community.

Goddard's Family Science Night origins can be traced to a successful family science program run by Dr. Jacob Noel-Storr, head of the Insight Lab for Science Outreach and Learning Research at the Rochester Institute of Technology Center for Imaging Science. Inspired by Dr. Noel-Storr's model, Goddard's program premiered on November 9, 2006 with an attendance of 10 families. The program has expanded to include 15 families per event and public interest always exceeds the program's capacity. Family Science Night will be held nearly every month until the 2006-2007 school year ends. Previous Family Science Nights have addressed scientific subjects under the titles, "Tis the Seasons," "Batteries Not Included," and "How Big? How Far? How Old?" Goddard's current Family Science Night pilot program is co-organized by Emilie Drobnes of the Heliophysics Science Division and Sara Mitchell of the Astrophysics Science Division. The Solar Dynamics Observatory supports the program.