A group of budding young scientists explored space from right inside their classroom walls.
As part of an experiment, eager fifth graders at Mather Heights Elementary School in California sent everything from popcorn kernels to jellybeans and marshmallows into outer space. The goal was to see what will happen to the small objects when they reach 90,000 feet above the Earth's surface.
The program is run through JP Aerospace, an initiative designed to generate interest around science and engineering in young children.
As many as 500 “Ping Pong Satellites” are carried by balloon during each space mission. The JP Aerospace Ping Pong Satellite program has sent about 135 missions, translating to more than 1,000 ping-pong balls from twenty countries, into space. When the Ping Pong Satellites make landfall, they are returned to the students and are examined in further experiments.
Many kids dream of being an astronaut and students who participate in the JP Aerospace program get one step closer to that goal. They also learn the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills that go in to outer space travel.
As the fifth graders in this video experienced firsthand, STEM education is extremely important. It gives students an essential understanding of how the world works and better prepares them to enter the workforce.
Last year the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that jobs in STEM fields are expected to grow by 17 percent by 2018. STEM employees also make 26 percent more than those in non-STEM areas. As the Department’s report points out, “STEM jobs are the jobs of our future. They are essential for developing our technological innovation and global competitiveness.”
Unfortunately, America’s competitiveness in STEM occupations may be faltering. Almost half of all 8th grade students in East Asian countries, such as Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore, are at advanced levels in math; this is compared to only 7 percent of American students. One reason for declining STEM skills could be the way science and math is taught in American schools.
As actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik points out: “Being a scientist is a wonderful and creative way to live your life … It’s a cool way to look at the world. It’s a beautiful thing to know how waves keep crashing and what it means to see a shooting star.” But these subjects are not always taught in a way that makes them seem “wonderful” and “creative.” To help fix this, President Obama has proposed a STEM Master Teacher Corps to give monetary rewards to “outstanding” STEM teachers.
As the teachers at Mather Heights Elementary School have shown, by helping kids perform hands-on experiments like this, they are brightening not just their students’ days—but also America’s future.