About the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program
May 26, 2011 Flight: Mary Blessing, Herndon, VA, and Cris DeWolf, Remus, MI, with Dana Backman
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) mission is responsible to NASA for conducting an Education and Public Outreach program that exploits the unique attributes of airborne astronomy to contribute to national goals for the reform of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, and to the elevation of public scientific and technical literacy.
SOFIA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) effort is a professional development program aspiring to improve teaching, inspire students, and inform the community. It builds upon the legacy of NASA’s highly successful FOSTER (Flight Opportunities for Science Teacher EnRicment) program that flew educators aboard the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) from 1990 – 1995.
SOFIA’s AAA program now enters its Cycle 2 phase: 12 AAA educator teams representing educators from 10 states were selected.
For the Cycle 1 phase of SOFIA’s AAA program, 13 AAA educator teams plus alternates were selected in a highly competitive application process. Selected educators came from a variety of backgrounds, and their institutions included a school for the deaf, an alternative education site (developmentally challenged), highly underserved student populations, rural schools, and a Native American school site.
The Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors “Pilot” program for educator professional development successfully flew six teachers on the observatory during the summer of 2011, representing California, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Virginia (Washington DC). Evaluation confirmed the program’s positive impact on the teacher participants, on their students, and in their communities. Teachers not only incorporated content knowledge and specific components of their experience into their curricula, they also have also given dozens of presentations and implemented teacher professional development workshops. Their efforts to date have impacted thousands of students and teachers.
As part of preparation and training for their flight experience, AAA program participants complete a graduate-level Astronomy for Teachers on-line course administered by Montana State University and National Teacher Enhancement Network. Teams are paired with an astronomer with observatory time, and they work with this astronomer throughout the research, from preparation to data analysis. AAAs optimally fly aboard the observatory twice, will implement classroom lessons based on their experiences, and will complete an outreach plan.
Selection into this prestigious program is truly an honor for the educators and their school, planetarium, or observatory.
Teachers in the News archive
January 2014: NASA Observatory Selects Educator Teams for 2014 Science Flights
February 2013: Educator Teams Fly on NASA'S SOFIA Airborne Observatory
January 2012: Educators Selected to Fly on NASA's SOFIA Airborne Observatory
May 2011: NASA Selects Classroom Teachers For SOFIA Science Flights