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Mark Gargano
Science Coordinator
St Joseph’s School Northam
Western Australia

Education Director
Mars Society Australia

Other associations: Science Teachers Association of Western Australia (STAWA), American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), The Planetary Society.

The investigation and pursuit of science is an ongoing adventure, it is more than a set of concepts that need to be learned and repeated. I see that the Spaceward Bound project is a great education tool that demonstrates science in action to the teachers involved. Over the last 17 years as a science educator, I have created many programmes to link a standard curriculum with exciting investigations and practical projects. Spaceward Bound has increased the scope of many of these.

All great discoveries begin with a great question, and this is where great classroom exercises begin. As students begin to ask the questions, the inquiry begins, and this is the way that I see my approach in a classroom. Teaching within a Middle School environment I have had tremendous opportunities to extend students, provide for links with other areas and organization,s and get students actively engaged in their science through research.

My experiences with Spaceward Bound (Mojave 2008 and South Australia 2009), have provided an enhanced skill set with links even made to evolutionary biology, ecology and environmental systems. I see student generated research and authentic investigations, as a key to developing higher order and critical thinking with students. Earth, planetary and space science is an excellent context for generating the interest of students, particularly at the 10th grade level, where the necessity of studying all branches of science is required for further progression to senior school, but the interest and student motivation still needs to be maintained.

With the development of specialized modules and an elective called ‘Space Science’ within my school, the students can experiment on remote rovers, space suit designs, rocket launching, expedition patch designing, food growth through hydroponics and mission planning. Added to students being able to conduct research linked to our own science expedition -- ‘The Student Spaceward Bound Under the Southern Cross’ within the banners of field science, historical science, technological science, and research and development, with content of craters, hypolithic systems, stromatolites, sustainable energy production, satellite tracking and monitoring, astronomical observations and measurement, with students making predictions, sampling, measuring, analysing data back in the laboratory and then reporting on it, through papers and presentations.

At all times it is important that the work that the students are doing is real, and teachers and students alike treat it this way, thus enhancing the outcomes and experiences of the students.

I am proud of individual achievements with many students presenting key findings and research and publishing through the Australian Mars Exploration Conference, as well as attending and speaking in different capacities on various related topics. In addition to many excursions, guest speakers, field exercises and camps, I would like to think that the many students that I have taught over the years have also enjoyed themselves as much as I have. I am looking forward to joining the Spaceward Bound Namibia team to continue the great science questions, finding out more about this amazing world, speaking and learning from the dynamic science and education teams involved and bringing anything new back for my students to appreciate as well.

What is important for students is to see what they are doing is relevant, that they have a choice about where their studies can lead, the science is real, and it links to what is actually going on in the science community. Through immersion into their science, they learn and can enjoy their experiences and discoveries. If students can see you passionate about science then hopefully some of this excitement is infectious.

Over the past few years, I have also been very pro-active in presenting material to other groups and science teachers, assisting with modules and camps linked with Earth, planetary and space science, along with publishing material and data related to students studying these areas. Recently, I have also embarked on a PhD program with Curtin University of Technology, which will enable me to further develop my research and generate findings of students participating in science enrichment programs in space science, measuring content knowledge, application, skills acquisition, motivation and long-term retention and science course choices.

Through open investigations and linking with scientists, the students have a renewed passion for their science studies, which ideally translates to continuing with science in senior school and beyond. I endeavour to get my students to go above and beyond their standard science studies, perhaps this one day may lead them to go above and beyond in their careers as well.

 

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Editor: Linda Conrad
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated:February 2010