ASBURY PARK, N.J. — Dacia DeAngelis, a teacher at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Asbury Park, stood in the center of the classroom, dangling a red ball the size of an apple above a fifth-grader’s head. At just the right moment, she let go of the ball. It dropped softly on the boy’s head, and the room erupted in laughter.
From there, the seven students launched into a discussion of Newton’s Law, the properties of gravity and how those properties change in outer space. The fourth- and fifth-graders practiced using vocabulary words like “microgravity,” and brainstormed how the beach ball they were tossing to each other might move differently if they were playing with it on the International Space Station.
At first glance, it looked like a typical science lesson. But a lot more was going on.
Thanks to the NASA EarthKAM (Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students) program, the students can learn about earth from a new perspective: as astronauts orbiting the earth over 200 miles away on the International Space Station. They’ve turned their classroom into a miniature mission control center; they take photos of earth by entering the coordinates of locations they want photographed using an online interface, which communicates with a camera mounted on the International Space Station. That camera snaps the photos and beams them back to earth, where the students can access them on the classroom computer.
DeAngelis, a speech-language therapist, co-teaches the class with Jodie Redman, an occupational therapist. They’re using the program not only to introduce science knowledge, but also to help their students, who all have special needs, to improve a range of abilities, such as motor, sensory, social and behavior, as well as verbal and communication skills.