Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE)
GRACE, twin satellites launched in March 2002, are making detailed measurements of Earth's gravity field which is leading to discoveries about gravity and Earth's natural systems. These discoveries are having far-reaching benefits to society and the world's population.
The objectives of GRACE Education and Public Outreach (EPO) are to keep the public informed of scientific findings of the mission and to provide the formal and informal education communities with access to scientific data, associated visualizations and science stories related to GRACE. The goal is to convey to our target audiences the message that improved gravity field measurements made possible by GRACE are being used to study climate issues that have a major impact on society.
The GRACE E/PO and science team are achieving these objectives through collaboration with EPO professionals from Earth Observing Missions studying climate change, workshops for professional educators, internships for high school students, and graduate student involvement. GRACE data is improving our knowledge of the hydrological cycle, changes in deep ocean currents, sea-level rise, thermal expansion, and changes in the mass distribution of polar ice sheets.
The general public and formal education communities are the targeted audiences. GRACE leverages funds by providing gravity content during educator workshops funded by other NASA grants included STEM, Summer of Innovation, ROSES, and Texas Space Grant Consortium.
The High School Summer Intern Program at The University of Texas Center for Space Research uses best practices and has become a model for other internship programs around the country. The program started as a NASA ROSES grant and is now a GRACE E/PO collaboration with Texas Space Grant Consortium and other Earth Science Missions such as ICESat. We recruit high school students in the greater Austin area for summer internships. The goals of the Summer Intern Program include: familiarizing local students with the conduct of research while being mentored by a GRACE scientist, introduction to the wide variety of activities that are encompassed in higher education; expose high school students to STEM careers, and provide hands-on opportunities to perform data analysis using new technology and resources.
Students interact with their GRACE science mentors and participate in bi-weekly science presentations conducted by UT/CSR staff on NASA research and earth science missions, produce an oral presentation about the GRACE research they will conduct, and present their work to the staff at UT/CSR at the end of their internship. Through our partnership with Time Warner Cable "Connect a Million Minds" campaign, we have been asked to share best practices, positive results of the program, and provide guidance in how to replicate this program through other agencies.
The number of applicants has grown annually where we have now quadrupled the number of applicants in three years. Every student that has participated in this program, which targets underrepresented and underserved audiences, has continued to pursue a STEM college education.
The GRACE Graduate Student E/PO Involvement program provides graduate students at UT/CSR working on the GRACE mission the opportunity to conduct education and outreach programs on gravity, climate change, and NASA EOS missions. We utilize graduate students to teach K-12 students during local events such as Earth Science Week Career Fairs and Science Days. The experience has been beneficial to both the graduate students, as they share their knowledge, and to the K-12 students receiving knowledge. We expanded opportunities for participation this year with great success. Graduate students gained public speaking, mentoring, and project management skills while sharing their scientific knowledge about GRACE, engineering, and STEM.
Currently in development is the “Changing Mass = Changing Earth” Interactive Web Feature. GRACE has demonstrated that it is a bumpy, lumpy world and that the bumps and lumps are ever changing. GRACE is one of the few NASA missions that make frequent direct measurements of a physical property of the entire planet Earth. Using eleven years of data from the GRACE satellites, the ever-increasing volume of observations is providing fertile ground for new research among a growing community of science users. It is now possible to tell the story of the ever changing earth system anywhere on our planet. The body of literature is growing, but it is dispersed among government and university websites, scientific journals and meetings, and within a specialized science community. However, if people interested in the GRACE mission know where to look, they can find 3D globe graphics, current orbit tracks, and scientific articles hosted on various websites but there are few places that coherently link general audience content for the entire globe.
This interactive and dynamic web-based application will invite the general public to explore the world as GRACE sees it is in its final stages of development. The application will serve as a dynamic interface for the exploration of GRACE measurements, and GRACE-derived science anywhere in the world. It will also host information drawn from the ever growing body of literature devoted to findings based on GRACE observations.
This web feature will visualize the truly global scope of information provided by GRACE for the solid Earth, the oceans, its ice sheets, and land hydrology. The GRACE visualizations on a Google Earth map will emphasize the description of the Earth as an integrated “System” with current and future concerns of global climate change described within context of the inter-relationships between its solid, fluid, and cryospheric components.
Looking at a Google Earth map, participants will click on a region of their choice and a placement tool will generate informational features about what we have learned about that region from GRACE and will include maps of time-averaged and time-variable gravity in that region. Joint contributions from GRACE and other EOS missions will be included where relevant.
- Increase the knowledge of classroom teachers about earth system science and global climate change thus improving teacher competencies in Earth and Space Science.
- Provide resources, materials, and data to GRACE Master Teachers.
- Mentor and employ high school summer interns interested in pursuing STEM careers at UT/CSR.
- Educate students on GRACE, Earth System Science, and Global Climate Change.
- Produce the “Changing Mass = Changing Earth” on-line interactive map interface, featuring results from GRACE together with other NASA EOS missions.
- Increase interactions among science experts, NASA researchers, secondary school teachers, and high school students.
- Increase the number of high school teachers and students using NASA Earth Observing data and NASA Earth system models to investigate and analyze global climate change issues.
University of Texas Center for Space Research (UTCSR)
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
NASA Earth Science media
Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)
GRACE EPO team is made up of representatives from the University of Texas Center for Space Research (UTCSR), the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), NASA Earth Science media, and Goddard Space Flight Center. These members meet monthly by teleconference to coordinate effective EPO strategies and implementation needs for the mission. In addition, the GRACE EPO lead is an active member of the NASA Earth Science EPO Forum, collaborates with other Mission EPO leads, and partners with the American Museum of Natural History to develop and implement teacher training utilizing GRACE data, activities, and GRACE Master Teachers.
GRACE EPO team members partner with the NASA Summer of Innovation program awardee in Texas; National Earth Science Teachers Association; National Science Teacher Association; Rio Grande Valley Science Association NASA STEM Grant; Texas Regional Science and Mathematics Collaborative; Space Exploration Educator Conference; Texas State Science Teacher Association; Texas Space Grant Consortium; Public Schools; 4-H and Youth program; and the Greater Austin Earth Science Career Fair alliance. The partnership provides avenues to leverage the resources of the GRACE program. A few examples include:
- Providing GRACE data and information during Summer of Innovation training to 150 teachers annually in the Rio Grande Valley who then conduct NASA-themed STEM campus to over 2,500 underrepresented and underserved students.
- Conducting GRACE educational activities and sharing EOS information to the 50 educators that attend the LiftOff Summer Institute at NASA Johnson Space Center which also includes the Middle School Aerospace Scholars program. In-depth evaluation shows that each teacher uses the information with a minimum of 100 students and trains an additional 25 teachers with the information they receive at LiftOff.
- Hosting a staff training for 16 directors of the Regional Science and Math Collaborative in Texas on NASA's Earth Observing Missions allowed us to conduct hands-on experiential activities and interact with GRACE scientists with these trainers who then went back and trained an additional 25 teachers in their region. These teachers then use the information in their classrooms.
It is interesting to note that since our partnerships have expanded throughout the state the scores on the Earth Science portion of the Texas State mandated test in 5th grade has increased dramatically. While we cannot take sole credit for that, we do feel that our partnership has made a difference in this area.
Effectiveness and Impact
Evaluation findings and impact statements:
A combination of evaluation methods will be utilized to gauge success of the project. Metrics will track the number of teacher and student participants, field trip opportunities for students, increase in knowledge of global climate change, and student interest in STEM careers. To measure project success, data will be collected, compiled and analyzed by the principal investigator, co-investigators, team members, and Dr. Cindy Roberts Gray of Third Coast Research.
- Were the numbers and qualities of professional development workshops and student internships/investigation opportunities provided as planned?
- Did the workshops and internships/study opportunities, follow-on teleconferences and web-based activities reach the planned numbers and diversity of teachers, students, and the general public?
- Did the “Changing Mass = Changing Earth” activities made accessible through the UTCSR website achieve the targeted or expected number of “hits” anticipated and did scientists provide information and content as promised?
- Did participating teachers gain knowledge of Earth and Space Science (ESS) and Global Climate Change and increase self-confidence in capabilities for engaging their students in learning about these subjects?
- Did the workshops have positive influence on teachers’ intentions to use the NASA satellite data and resources with their students?
- Did participating students gain knowledge of Earth and Space Science, and Global Climate Change?
- Did the field activities have positive influence on students’ interest in pursuing STEM and teaching careers?
While the evaluation is not complete, interim findings show:
- The teachers indicated gains in instructional STEM skills from before to after attending the training.
- After the training, more than 95% reported they felt "well prepared" to lead a class of students using investigative skills, manage a class of students engaged in hands-on/project-based work, and use strategies that specifically encourage participation of females and minorities in STEM fields. Less than half of the teachers reported feeling well prepared in these instructional tasks before attending the training.
- More than 75% of the teachers who responded to the survey at the end of training indicated the workshop increased their STEM content knowledge and their capabilities for motivating students in STEM.
- Nearly all (95%) of the teachers who responded to the survey at the end of training indicated that after attending the training they knew "a lot" about the subject of NASA's earth observing satellite missions. They also reported that before attending the workshop their knowledge about the subject was "a little" or "none."