One Solar System Educator's Experience
9 Jul 2009
Ken Brandt is a happy camper, as he gets to talk of "Mars and Stars" every working day as Director of the Robeson Planetarium and Science Center in Lumberton, North Carolina. Ken believes in the concept of lagniappe, that one should always leave with an unexpected gift or benefit of their experience in a cool place, whether that place is New Orleans (where the term lagniappe is thought to have originated) or Lumberton. Every student who visits the Robeson Planetarium and Science Center takes home something tangible that s/he can take show off. Sometimes that item is a "gee whiz" fact about space exploration; other times it's a colorful bookmark or sticker.
Ken also spends a lot of his free time educating other teachers. The lagniappe concept works well there too. Teachers love NASA's online educational activities and the Solar System Exploration Packets that come with Ken's workshop sessions. The SSEP program helps Ken make that connection with students when these workshop activities go back to the classroom with the teachers and end up in their lesson plans.
Lately, Ken has become more and more adept at finding and creating online resources that spotlight the explorations of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA in general. He built a freshman level online astronomy course for use in all of North Carolina's State Universities, which relies heavily on the resources that NASA and JPL provide for STEM education.
In the online environment, lagniappe translates into web activities and links that inspire, educate, and excite teachers and students alike. Ken is particularly fond of the links for the Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover and Cassini raw images, which he loves to share with his audiences.
Opportunity Mars: http://marsrovers.nasa.gov/gallery/all/opportunity.html
Other, very powerful benefits of being in the Solar System Educators Program are the teleconferences, and other unique, first-hand opportunities to interact with the explorers themselves. Ken's favorite teleconference was definitely the interview with Dr. Steve Squyres, Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover missions.