Two NISD science teachers selected for NASA program

Two Northside ISD science teachers have been selected as 2021 NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA).

The AAA program is a professional development opportunity for science teachers designed to improve science teaching and learning and increase student STEM engagement. The program, managed by the SETI Institute since its inception in 2011, has partnered with 30 teachers in 10 states this year. It also expanded to include middle school educators for the first time

The Northside ISD participants are:

  • Kathleen Kraus, Jefferson Middle School
  • Pamela Word, Jay High School

AAA participant teachers receive training in astrophysics and planetary science content. Their training will include a week-long immersion experience at NASA’s science research aircraft facility in Palmdale, California with participation in research flights onboard NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP airliner that is fitted with a 2.5-meter (100-inch) telescope and uses a suite of seven cameras and spectrographs to study celestial objects at infrared wavelengths. SOFIA operates during 10-hour overnight science missions at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet (12-14 kilometers), above more than 99 percent of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere that blocks infrared light from reaching ground-based observatories.

After their training, AAAs teach a physical science curriculum module that connects curriculum concepts to NASA- and SOFIA-enabled research.

Kraus, science department coordinator and 8th grade teacher at Jefferson Middle School, has been teaching science for 25 years. She earned a degree in life and earth sciences at UTSA and a master’s in degree curriculum & instruction at Our Lady of the Lake University. “I became a science teacher to help students DO—not just study—science to understand it better and connect it to their lives.” Lately her students have been making connections between NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover mission and their science course.  

Word has been teaching for 16 years and is currently the science department coordinator and a physics teacher at Jay High School. She graduated from Taft High School and then earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at UTSA and a master’s degree in curriculum & instruction at UT-Arlington. “I had been teaching biology for one year when I was told I would be teaching physics, the course that scared me most.” She wasn’t scared very long, though, because she is now teaching AP Physics courses.  She says she appreciates the experiments her students do to understand Newton’s 300 year old laws as well as their discussions about black holes. “It’s all physics and there is so much we still don’t know.”

This is the third year Northside ISD has participated in the AAA program. In 2020, two teachers were selected and in 2019, four NISD teachers were selected for the program.