Sunday, September 27, 2020
US flag

Charles Co. to get planetarium; kids talk with astronauts

About 20 students at La Plata High School in Charles County, Md., had the opportunity to speak with two astronauts on the International Space Station the Tuesday before Thanksgiving as part of NASA’s Teaching from Space initiative. Charles County, which serves about 26,000 students in southern Maryland, is one of seven school districts selected to participate this year, Southern Maryland Online reports.


Students at La Plata HS talk with astronauts, Nov 26 (submitted photo)

This happened the same day the school system announced it would name its new science center the James E Richmond Science Center, after the former superintendent of schools and astronaut. The science center will feature a digital, 180-seat classroom equipped with a “Science On a Sphere” interactive globe that creates a part-planetarium, part-IMAX theater learning atmosphere, T.H.E. Journal reports.

If you would like more information about “Science on a Sphere,” developed by Dr Alexander “Sandy” MacDonald, who directs the National Oceanic and Atomospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory, see the Web page here.

The SOS system comes with a high price tag, which the district couldn’t afford six years ago, when they first learned about SOS. Especially since the district didn’t really have a good building to house the equipment, they opted for less expensive systems that still had the same “Wow factor” and could display animated day and night skies, atmospheric conditions, and land in a panoramic view, T.H.E. reported. Then they purchased a few more less expensive globes, known as “Magic Planet,” even using them in pre-K to demonstrate the seasons of the year.

But now, the James E Richmond Science Center should take STEM education to a new level, especially the science part of STEM. “We wanted to make the subject matter both relevant and exciting,” T.H.E. quoted Monique Wilson, director of the science center, as saying.

She also said one of the objectives was to increase involvement from minority students in STEM classes. “We have a large minority population, but we learned that [minority] students weren’t being reflected in STEM-related opportunities,” she told T.H.E. “In fact, over the years, we found that it was predominantly [Caucasian] males that were able to participate.”

Increasing the focus on STEM education

Other schools in Maryland are increasing STEM awareness as well. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, so efforts are under way to provide more learning experiences for students in these disciplines. It’s especially noticeable at the high school level, where in many cases, kids are preparing for jobs in technical and scientific fields.

Tuesday at Pikesville High School in Baltimore County, representatives from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the Food and Drug Administration, and a few other organizations that have a vested interest in promoting education in STEM-related fields, talked to students, trying to convince them of STEM’s real-world benefits.

The Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, which launched the STEM Specialists in the Classroom Program in 2010, brought them there, the Baltimore Business Journal reports.

Baltimore County Superintendent of Schools Dallas Dance had high praise for the STEM Specialists program. “Connecting our students with STEM professionals who can educate them about career options and engage them in inquiry-based learning broadens our students’ understanding of what they can do and the impact they can have,” he was quoted as saying.

The goal of the program, which now serves about 25 schools, one in every school system, but hopes to expand to about 90 “STEM Innovation High Schools” within a few years, is to show students how what they learn in STEM classes is relevant to the daily tasks of professionals in good careers.


Building 30, Johnson Space Center (Mission Control)
Note: Photographs are not possible inside Mission Control.

Kids at La Plata High School, during the NASA downlink, got that message loud and clear on the telepresence screen: “We are ready. Charles County Public Schools, this is Mission Control Houston. Please call station for a voice check.”

Well, the astronauts and Mission Control in Houston are ready. Are you ready when it comes to STEM? Because as sure as anything ever was, high-tech, math, and science are going to be big movers in the 21st century.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

On constitutional flat taxes in Illinois

An important ballot question in IL involves the elimination of the flat tax in favor of a graduated income tax structure.

Weather conference for Howard Co. 6th graders

The Howard County (Md.) Conservancy invites 6th graders to register for a conference about preparing for extreme weather.

Exercise harder, remember more

Scientists have found that the more vigorously you exercise, the stronger the response in the brain that helps your memory.

More than Covid keeps kids home at E. Peoria

Mud & debris flooded E Peoria Comm HS this summer, so students can't return to in-person learning sooner than the end of Oct.

Schools rethink the whole idea of snow days

Why have snow days anymore if we can have 'virtual learning' days, now that we know a thing or two about how they work?

Student news roundup, Maryland, Sept. 24

State to allow sports beginning in Oct., but some districts won't go back yet; Miss Maryland Agriculture; music lessons virtually.

Grand jury indicts officer in Breonna Taylor case

A former police officer was indicted in connection with the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. But it was less than many had hoped for.

New youth forum talks virtual learning in Md.

Virtual learning thoughts from a Md. HS: It can work and keeps kids safe, but it ends up being harder (you can't just ask a teacher if you don't understand).

IL brings 1000s back to school for SAT exam

Many IL seniors went back to their school buildings today to make up the SAT exam, which they missed last spring as juniors due to the pandemic.

Baltimore City Schools to lay off 450

Layoffs are coming to Baltimore City Schools due to a budget shortfall. Some teachers and teacher's assistants are included in the layoffs.

How citizens prefer to fund environmental action

Growing demand for countries to combat climate change, less consensus on how to fund it. New study offers insight from the US, UK, Germany, France.