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List of "In the Spotlight" Features

NASA Explorer School Students Learn with Signals of Spring


Waimea Middle School, a NASA Explorer School located on the Big Island of Hawaii is going strong with its first season with Signals of Spring. Mrs. Liz Noetzel and her sixty-five 7th grade Life Science students are excited about the connections that they have made with the animals this spring.

map of Hawaii with a dot on Waimea


The Waimea students have been studying Black Storks, Golden Eagles, and Northern Goshawks, three of the nearly two dozen animals tracked by Signals of Spring partners this spring. Wall displays visually demonstrate that students have gained a lot of insight into the specific species they have studiedlearning about the animals' needs and why and how they migrate.

Student experts help each other to see the connections between the weather, vegetation, and geography imagery and the birds' movements. They have made lots of discoveries during their research and analysis. Students note, "I learned that the weather is both predictable and unpredictable," and, "[Signals] taught us that there is more to birds than we expected there to be."

Mrs. Noetzel says, "I like Signals of Spring because it is student-driven and provided them with opportunities to share their knowledge for an authentic 'cause.' Because the students felt a connection to these birds, they quickly came to care about them."

Her students agree! One student noted, "The best part was finding out more about our animals and what people do to them, and learning some things I can do to help protect them. I felt connected to my bird because I did want it to survive."

Another student explained, "I liked this project because it was fun and it felt like we were really taking care of [the bird] by tracking it."

In addition to becoming attached to their birds, Mrs. Noetzel is excited about the skills and content knowledge that her students have gained from the Signals of Spring program, saying, "I am always looking for innovative ways to engage students in hands-on activities. The Signals program provided us with 'real' scenarios and opportunities to discuss what the data actually meant. It also proved to be a great tool for critical thinking and making inferences. Discussions were rich and relevant, and each student reveled in sharing his or her expert knowledge with their other group members."

The students share the enthusiasm. "Using computers with real time data was much more fun than doing the project from just listening," one student confessed.

By staying current with the animals' movements, another student was able to point out, "It was amazing how far the birds went in a certain amount of time."

As a NASA Explorer School, Waimea Middle School student have had great opportunities to learn much more about science and technology in an exciting and interactive ways. Astronauts and other NASA employees have visited the school, and students have presented at Kennedy and Johnson Space Centers. Students have completed NASA units including "Microgravity and its Effects on Human Body Systems, Space Plants, and Space Food."

Mrs. Noetzel sums up the experience of being a NASA Explorer School by saying, "Being a NASA Explorer School has brought us a great deal of pride, many wonderful opportunities and funding for equipment over the past three years. Students have been exposed to information about careers in math, science, technology, geography and engineering through the use of NASA-related materials, curriculum and teacher instruction. Students who have never considered science as an interesting subject now see it beyond the confines of the textbook and realize that science is life, science is everywhere, and it's fun!"

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