Bethlehem, PA, May 19, 2010 - Responding to the trend that American K-12 students lag behind their international peers in science and math, Lehigh University has joined with a nearby school district to fashion a unique, hands-on approach to the problem -- the Dr. John A. McAdams Jr. Space Center. The Space Center, which is believed to be the only such educational/research facility at this level anywhere in the country, opened today with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Allentown, Pa.-based Harrison-Morton Middle School.
According to Dr. Henry Odi, executive director for academic outreach and adjunct professor, Lehigh University, the goals of the Space Center are to help public schools teach science, encourage more K-12 students to consider careers in math and science, and to reach out to black, Hispanic and female students, who are underrepresented in the fields -- in college and in the professions -- of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
"Our nation's future competitive growth is dependent upon an increase of traditional students, minorities and females reaching for the stars by seeking careers in the STEM fields," said Odi. "Lehigh is dedicated to achieving this goal by bringing together our campus and the community through forward thinking projects such as this. We aim to expose students at the middle school level to learning opportunities in the STEM areas with a hope of making headway in reversing the trend and rebuilding competitiveness in these fields which are crucial to our country's future."
The project, which began six years ago, is the culmination of the work of faculty, students and staff of Lehigh University who were funded by two National Science Foundation multi-year grants, as well as grants from NASA. Additionally, the Space Center is made possible through a partnership between Lehigh University, the Allentown School District and many prominent local companies, including Air Products & Chemicals, Inc., Alvin H. Butz., Inc., and more.
The Space Center blends STEM learning in the classroom with hands-on, state-of-the-art robotics taught in conjunction with student teachers from Lehigh. The Center features a Mission Control Center -- designed as a life-like replica of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center by local architect Robertson Butz Architects in collaboration with NASA -- a Professional Development Center and a Mars Yard.
In the Mission Control Center, students can use wireless, remote-control hookups to manipulate robots to pick up and return rocks through the bumpy hills and valleys of the Mars-like terrain located two-floors below in the Mars Yard. At the core of this project, Lehigh graduate students teach these eighth graders the basics of "if then" software programming, as well as robotics at the level which is taught to Lehigh engineering freshman. In addition, the students are taught networking and the plotting of x-y math coordinates.
The Mission Control features advanced teleconference systems and Internet2 which will allow the students to connect with local organizations and resources at Lehigh University. "In the future, the goal is for students to use the technology in place now, to one day have the opportunity to communicate and learn in real-time with NASA scientists, or even astronauts on space missions," said Odi.
In the room adjacent to the Mission Control is a new Professional Development Center where students can participate in small team projects, or where teachers can participate in workshops and training. According to Allentown School District, Harrison-Morton has the added distinction of being a NASA Explorer School, which qualifies it to receive educational materials from the space agency and makes this training center an extraordinary resource to the community.
At the Professional Development Center, teachers and administrators from across the district, along with undergraduate and graduate students of Lehigh University, can participate in workshops that promote instruction on the technology systems and their functions and demonstrate how these unique resources can be integrated into the curriculum.
"Harrison-Morton is a school focused on the future," said Superintendent Dr. Karen S. Angello of Allentown School District. "It currently operates as an 'intra-district' resource and with this addition aims to also become a regional resource offering continuing education and training of teachers - a critical element to the success of STEM education application and sustainability. We are proud to name the Space Center in honor of Dr. John A. McAdams, Jr., a man of great character who was devoted to the students of the Allentown School District."
Dr. McAdams served as the District Assistant Superintendant for Curriculum and Instruction and was dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of science, math and technology. He was responsible for fostering relationships with Lehigh University and NASA among others, and recognized that enhanced instruction engages students in reasoning and problem-solving skills and promotes retention.