Tech professor, NASA brings ‘real-life’ science to high school students

Apr 3, 2009 | General News

Louisiana Tech’s nationally-recognized College of Engineering and Science is going back to high school.

During the spring and summer, several faculty members will work to tailor the university’s new freshman “Living with the Lab” curriculum to high school students. Within the next two years, the program will be in place and affecting students at 15 north Louisiana high schools.

The payoff – students better prepared for science and technology jobs – is possible because of a $1.39 million grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to the Lincoln Parish School District.

NASADr. Heath Tims, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Tech and Principal Investigator for NASA-Threads, along with fellow faculty, developed the ideas for and then wrote most of the grant. The money makes possible the expansion of Tech programs into high school programs, such as the innovative science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program at Ruston High.

“Now we can provide our high school students with a college-level, project-based course on their own campus,” said the district’s Project ACHIEVE Coordinator Cathi Cox. “There will be a whole team from Tech working on this, preparing it for the high schools. That’s what makes this such an awesome project: it’s well-fleshed out and really ‘amped-up’ to the next level.”

Already successful in starting other relatively new projects in engineering education and high school outreach, Tims and friends reasoned that if they had the resources, high school physics students could begin learning “content in context of application.”

“For instance, if we’re going to learn about force or power, a student can hook up his Boe-bot and have it pull something and measure how much power is used to move an object,” Tims said. “And we’re using NASA ideas so we can more easily show students real-life application.”

As Tech freshmen have, high school students affected by the program will have similar materials, like a Boe-bot, the popular “Board of Education” robot, which costs roughly $100. Some of the grant money will go for such materials for students; much of it will go to Tech, whose faculty will be responsible for developing the curriculum, training the high school science teachers, providing workshops or choosing workshops for high school faculty to attend, and providing online materials and electronic hookups between Tech and the schools.

“Students will be able to see what they’re learning,” Tims said. “The STEM content will be woven through the whole curriculum. When a student sees the concept and understands why what he’s doing is important and exactly how things work, he’s going to say, “So. THAT’S why I’m learning this.'”

“I envisioned an opportunity for out students that would be the envy of any student anywhere in this country,” Cox said. “And I think we accomplished that. With the Research Park and Cyber industry expanding at Tech and with the economic landscape changing around us, we had a responsibility to make sure our students were equipped for the reality that would be waiting for them after high school. That’s where STEM came from, and now, Tech will enable us to move even faster.”

Ruston High, Benton High in Bossier Parish and Lovejoy High in Dallas are included in funding for the first year of the two-year grant; a dozen north Louisiana schools will be included in 2010-2011.

“We want to increase the number of students who go into the STEM curriculum,” Tims said. “These types of classes and exposure should increase their awareness of what they can be in these fields.”


Written by Teddy Allen