More About Partnerships

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High school teacher Frank Niepold from the Edmund Burke School in Washington, D.C., has guided his students in GLOBE investigations for several years. His students have been involved in collecting aerosols for ground validation of observations by the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite since March 2002. Niepold places high value on GLOBE investigations for student learning. “My aim is getting kids to do real science,” says Niepold. “When they start looking at Earth system changes through time, that’s when my class hums.” Tackling unanswered questions is a large part of what makes professional science exciting, and it almost never happens in an ordinary classroom. Perhaps the most important gift a scientist or teacher can give to students is the experience of scientific discovery, and the inspiration to engage in a scientific pursuit.

  Satellite Image of Dust and Smoke over Central Africa

Students learn in unanticipated ways. “I thought I’d like to study the blue color of the sky, and the project snowballed,” says Gianna D’Emilio, a high school junior at Burke School. D’Emilio and three other GLOBE students took aerosol measurements for nine months, coinciding with the overflight times of NASA’s Earth-observing Terra satellite. The Burke students presented their observations and analysis of data at the GLOBE Learning Expedition conference, in Sibenik, Croatia, in the summer of 2003. Georg Hatterscheid, a teacher at Realschule Cuxhaven, in Cuxhaven, Germany, and his students joined the project. Students from both schools participated in a presentation at the 54th International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany, in the fall of 2003. “We were treated as scientists, said Gianna. “The expectations were really high. We had to talk to the scientists and be articulate, and that was a huge thrill for me.” For the German students, the opportunity to present their work in English before an international audience was a major event.


Dust and smoke mingle over central Africa in this image from Terra’s MODIS instrument. Ripples of beige-colored dust are blowing south from the Bodele Depression in Chad into Nigeria and Cameroon. Smoke from land-clearing fires in the African Sahel mix with the dust. Occasionally, dust and smoke from this region blow over Europe and the Americas. Measurements made by students on the ground are used to authenticate measurements made by satellites flying high above. (NASA image courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response)


D’Emilio describes her major interests as English and drama. She took on the role of writing and editing the team’s presentation to a group of scientists at an international GLOBE conference in Croatia. The experience “helped me see science the way it is accomplished when scientists meet and share ideas,” says D’Emilio. “I really appreciated the people at the conference who especially loved teaching and knew how to make us feel part of the science.” For someone acknowledged by both herself and her teacher as “not a strong science student,” her growing science literacy pointed to the value of the partnership for all students. Niepold says, “because of Gianna and Jordan’s work with GLOBE, now there’s a buzz in the school. That pilot project has opened students’ eyes to what’s possible.”

For students who are already sure they want a career in science, making a formal presentation to a group of scientists holds tremendous value. “I’ve had a strong interest in science for as long as I can remember,” says Jordan Glist, a senior at Edmund Burke School in Washington, D.C. “I’ve always liked taking an analytical approach to things, so I was naturally interested in the aerosol measuring and analysis project. But I really got deeper into it when we had to write about our analysis for the presentation in Croatia. We were trying to determine whether or not MODIS (the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites) was making accurate measurements over urban areas. We had to explain how we’d gone about comparing our ground-based measurements at our urban school to MODIS’s space-based measurements. To get the concept across, we had to really understand the data analysis process we were going through. I know other students who collected data with the same instruments but who didn’t understand the significance of what they were measuring because they didn’t have to write about it for a formal presentation.”

Student-scientist partnerships not only take students and teachers to the heart of best practices in education, but they can also help expand the pipeline of potential future scientists and researchers for industry, academia, and government. The Chairperson of the Interdisciplinary Science Center at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, USA, Dianne Robinson, runs several student partnership programs. “Some of the scientists love doing this work. They see it as developing a pool of potential candidates for their science disciplines,” says Robinson. Furthermore, Robinson says, “Across the board, working with NASA scientists gives students windows into further things. Some of my students present their research at the university level, and at conferences such as AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science).”

Obstacles to scientist-student partnerships are great, but the tantalizing rewards of engaging students in authentic research entice scientists and educators to continue looking for ways of working together. Lack of time presents the biggest challenge. Time is a precious commodity for scientists and educators alike, and rewarding partnerships require significant, consistent time commitments over a long period. Another obstacle is differences between scientists’ and students priorities. School curricula generally don’t support long-term studies of the same science ideas, nor do students usually collect data during summer. Scientists, students, and teachers also have different levels of science understanding, and all partners must learn to respect what the others bring to the partnership. Furthermore, most scientists have already formulated their research questions before their partnerships begin, and students need help in developing theirs so the data collection has meaning for them. Students and teachers need the tools, preparation, communication, and support for being fully part of the research process.

  Photograph of GLOBE Students in Croatia

High school students Chris Hanawalt, their teacher Frank Niepold, Melanie Benetato, and Gianna D’Emilio presented their work in partnership with David Brooks at the GLOBE Learning Expedition conference in Sibenik, Croatia in 2003. (Photograph courtesy Frank Niepold)


Can partnerships work to benefit both science research and education? Based upon Levelt’s experience, the answer is yes, for some people, and for some kinds of measurements. It takes commitment and a concerted, long-term effort to make such a partnership succeed. Students and scientists must pay special attention to one another’s fundamental concerns. Scientists must feel confident that the quality of the data collected by students will meet professional standards; teachers must be convinced that the student learning outcomes justify taking time from the traditional curriculum; and students must become personally engaged in the project. When these elements come together as they did for Levelt and her students, both science and education can benefit.

  Photograph of David Brooks with Two Teachers

David Brooks, of Drexel University, shows a pair of teachers how to use the GLOBE Sun photometer. It takes a high degree of commitment and long-term efforts for scientist-student-teacher partnerships to succeed. (Photograph courtesy David Brooks)

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