Over the years, astronauts and those who study the heavens have always captured the imagination and interest of students enrolled in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe.

But lately the relationship between DODDS and the National Space and Aeronautics Administration has reached new heights.

On Saturday, two NASA personnel sat down with DODDS educators for a daylong professional development course designed to further the system’s science curriculum, from the elementary level to high school.

The focus this time was NASA’s Student Observation Network, which allows students to make observations via a computer and compare it with NASA data. In particular, the workshop dealt with the relationship between the sun and the earth, such as tracking solar storms.

“Science is exciting. Science is about discovery,” said Elaine Lewis, a NASA educator for the observation network. Ultimately Saturday’s workshop, she added, was intended to help DODDS educators “inspire the minds of young students.”

Last fall, two NASA scientists visited DODDS-Europe headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, to discuss something called the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope Project.

With respect to that project, the computer work students will do involving radio waves across the solar system and universe actually helps NASA develop and modify planetary models used by scientists.

The two workshops don’t necessarily represent a new effort by NASA to reach out solely to DODDS, because, as Lewis said, the space agency as always sought to inspire students as well as teachers. But the workshops do underscore a continuing interest to make science more appealing to kids.

“NASA puts a lot of effort, visibility and effort towards education and public outreach,” said Lou Mayo, a planetary scientist and program manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Sponsored by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the recent workshop in Heidelberg, Germany, drew 36 DODDS teachers and administrators. Attendees received a presentation about the sun-Earth system and how it works, and were later schooled in the activities and tools the Student Observation Network offers teachers to assist them in the classroom.

Using desk computers, educators were guided through some of the learning sites they can access and show their students. Some of the sites display real-time data on the sun and its relationship with Earth.

“It’s neat that kids get to work with real data,” said Susan K. Kerns, president of the ASCD’s German affiliate and an educational technologist at Bitburg Elementary School. “They can see the same data that scientists see.”

For Kerns, the workshop is yet another tool DODDS teachers can use to expose students to the wonders of science. The payback might be decades away, she said, but a DODDS student “may be the one scientist that solves a mystery” regarding issues like radiation or ozone depletion.

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