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Summer program rockets students into NASA science

By May 14, 2012June 14th, 20165 Comments

Summer school is a challenge—for students, who’d rather be doing just about anything else, and for teachers, who must find ways to get them interested anyway. While we know effective summer programs can lead to higher attendance and achievement during the school year, increased motivation, and increased skill development, none of that happens unless the students are into it.

For the past two summers, students at Union Intermediate High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have been engaged in chemistry with an astronomical twist through a two-week program called Cosmic Chemistry. Developed by McREL through a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (Grant R305A090344), Cosmic Chemistry uses real-world science from NASA’s Genesis mission to engage 9th and 10th graders in science and prepare them for high school chemistry.

Through interactive activities and hands-on projects, students learned about sun and solar wind, how elements are made, and planetary diversity. They met NASA scientists, tried on the clean room suits scientists wear when they handle samples gathered in outer space, and held artifacts collected from the Genesis mission. They developed final projects that invited them to explore different presentation styles (like Prezi) to show what they had learned.


The level of interactivity and personal empowerment, combined with standards-based content and research-based instructional strategies that work with students and teachers at all levels of knowledge, had real academic results. Data collected from surveys, focus groups, classroom observations, teacher logs, and pre- and post-tests showed students increased their background knowledge as well as their motivation level and self-confidence in science. Also, teachers had a higher level of expectation for student success. Of the students in the program, 82 percent went on to take pre-AP (honors) chemistry.

Most of what students said they liked best about Cosmic Chemistry can be applied to any science classroom: flexibility in choosing projects that were personally interesting; developing both the skills and the confidence to present in front of people; doing science instead of just reading about it; learning things that are relevant to the classes they will be taking; and believing they could understand an authentic science endeavor.

How do you bring science to life in your classroom? How do you engage students in science during the summer?

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • I think this can be really interesting for the students. I mean I regret that we haven’t had such an opportunity when we were students. Anyway, 5thanks a lot for the post, I really liked it.

  • play swf says:

    Cosmic Chemistry – what an awesome idea! If there is a single thing on Earth that can keep these kids interested, that thing would be some NASA stuff!

  • Steve Dean says:

    I would love my son to get involved in program like this. I am sure that part of me wants to get involved to. I’m not sure how you acn bring science to life in the classroom, It’s been a long time since I have been in one, but the mysteries of the universe have always captured my attention.

  • Dr Chris Kladis says:

    Cosmic Chemistry – a great read. This is an example of the interdisciplinary nature of Science. Science is often taught as a linear uninspiring discipline, but student engagement is possible by teaching via real world applicatications. I am currently developing a “Chemistry of Art” unit for my Year 10 Science class.

  • Charity Wells says:

    Cosmic Chemistry is a wonderful program for students to participate in. I have a kindergartener that is set on becoming an astronaut. He is actually visiting the NASA Space Center this week while on spring break. It is awesome to think that programs such as these will exist once he is old enough to take part in them! I’ll be sure to show his parents this blog, especially since they are very hands on in helping him attain his aspirations of becoming an astronaut.

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