Solar System Educators
Since 2003, 94 Solar System Educators have trained more than 32,000 teachers - with a cost to NASA of less than the price of a first-class postage stamp for each person reached. These master teacher volunteers expand the reach of NASA missions across the nation and abroad, bringing NASA inspiration into their classrooms and communities.
More about the Solar System Educators Program can be found at:
Solar System Educators (SSEP) are master teacher volunteers who train other teachers in their states in the use of NASA’s STEM educational materials.
The SSEP program holds open application periods based on need. Applicants are selected based on a rigorous set of criteria that include: education, interest, demonstrated ability, community involvement, established connections, geographic diversity, etc. All SSEP applicants must have their school or place of employment sign a letter of support before being accepted into the program. Infrequently, some SSEP activities may require time away from work. We need to be assured that the school will support this effort.
Once selected, Solar System Educators sign an agreement stating that within that first calendar year of service, they will participate in required trainings, adhere to SSEP rules and conduct and report three workshops or reach 100 teachers. Once SSEPs successfully complete their first year of service, they are eligible to renew their participation every two years, as long as the terms of the agreement are fulfilled.
Newly selected Solar System Educators must complete the required Orientation and Ethics trainings before conducting their first workshops as NASA volunteers. From then on, annual Ethics trainings are mandatory.
In keeping with the philosophy that “teachers need to learn in the way they will teach,” Solar System Educators are provided at least one institute during their time as an SSEP volunteer for face-to-face training on NASA’s STEM educational materials. These institutes are held whenever funds are available to host them. Locations where institutes are held can be NASA centers or partners’ facilities.
Training on mission-related topics is conducted in partnership with the Solar System Ambassadors program and the NASA Museum Alliance. Working with mission personnel and EPO leads, professional development telecons are hosted several times a month to acquaint volunteers with information on NASA’s space exploration efforts. Volunteers are provided website downloadable presentation and supplemental information that has been cleared for public use by JPL Document Review. On the telecons, mission scientists, engineers and EPO personnel review the material with the volunteers and answer questions.
These telecons are recorded and archived on the NASA Nationwide website, the SSA training website that is also available to other NASA volunteer networks, like SSEP. The telecon archive page includes all presentation materials, a downloadable mp3 recording and edited transcript. Ambassadors who are unable to participate in the telecons may review the archive and receive credit for having taken the training. Currently, there are almost 300 telecon training archives dating back to November 1999 available on the NASA Nationwide website.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The Solar System Educators program (SSEP) began life in 1999 at the same time as the Galileo Ambassador Program was being converted to the Solar System Ambassadors program. The SSEP Advisory Board combined various mission “fellows” programs into SSEP and held an open application period. About 80 SSEPs were selected. At that time, the SSEP Advisory Board hired an outside contractor to run the program. That continued until 2003, when the SSEP Advisory Board decided to bring the program back to JPL. The SSA Coordinator took SSEP on as an additional duty and began to operate it with the same business model as SSA.
Currently, there are 94 Solar System Educators in 50 states and Puerto Rico.
Partners of the Solar System Educators Program include:
- NASA Science Mission Directorate
- 94 Solar System Educators
- Solar System missions’ EPO leads, scientists and engineers
- Earth missions’ EPO leads, scientists and engineers
- Heliophysics missions’ EPO leads, scientists and engineers
- Astrophysics missions’ EPO leads, scientists and engineers
- NASA Museum Alliance personnel
All EPO partners serve on the SSEP Advisory Board that aids the SSEP Coordinator in selecting new volunteers on an as-needed basis. EPO leads, scientists and engineers advise the SSEP program on information about their missions and mission results. They also provide the materials and conduct the trainings on their mission materials. Mission personnel respond to questions from volunteers and consider them extended members of their teams.
As with the Galileo Ambassador Program and the Solar System Ambassadors program, SSEP was experimental pilot. No initial evaluation was conducted. Once SSEP was brought back to JPL from the outside contractor that ran it from 1999 to 2003, SSEP was covered under the same business model as SSA. SSEP is supported by the same offices that support SSA. Those are…
- Caltech Office of General Counsel – legal matters, volunteer agreements
- JPL Contracts Management Office – prime contract compliance
- Caltech Human Resources – liability insurance for events
- Caltech Workers Comp – workers comp insurance and injury advice
- JPL Security – background checks, badging advice
- JPL Ethics Office – proper business conduct
- JPL Media Relations – appropriate media training
- JPL Legislative Affairs – advice on interactions with elected officials
- JPL Institutional Communications – logo and materials use policy
- NASA Office of Space Science (Now the Science Mission Directorate) – provided an outside evaluation
The same organization that evaluated the SSA program in 2003 began an evaluation of the Solar System Educators Program. While never completed as there was discussion about merging the two programs, initial results included are informative.
Excerpts from the evaluation report:
Profile of the sample: Sixteen interviewees (two of the 16 are no longer active):
- At least 11 had previous involvement with NASA, mentioning Cassini fellows, GAVRT, Stardust fellows, NEWMAST, NEWEST, Challenger fellows, Jason Project, and the Jason Foundation
- The vast majority of SSEs are reaching the goals of 100 hours of workshops, etc.
The objectives of the WISE E/PO program to meet these goals are to:
- The Educators have a clear investment in science education and NASA. Of those interviewed:
- Some are classroom teachers.
- Many are associated with other NASA missions and programs right now, for example, those listed above.
- One has a relationship with Goddard
- One works at a NASA Education Clearing House (ERC) and uses ERC resources
- One took a course on the Sun at Goddard
- Some are at a museum working on the SEC
- One is working on GLAST—gamma ray telescope program
- One is involved with NEWMAST program, now the NEW program
- One works with NASA Iowa Connect
- One is the Director of the Challenger Center in NJ
The SSEP model is good: teachers like to be taught by other teachers.
“Teachers get intimidated by scientists; the knowledge difference is vast. To be taught by other teachers is less threatening. It’s more familiar when you’re taught by teachers – you speak the same language.”
Effectiveness and Impact
Currently, there are almost 300 telecon training archives dating back to November 1999 available on the NASA Nationwide website. These cover far-ranging current topics including Mars Curiosity Rover updates and landing planning, Transits, Eclipses and Occultations, the Dawn Mission, Rare Volcanism on the Moon's Far Side, Hubble Science Briefing, The Arctic Ocean Estuary, How Stars Formed in Galaxies, the Future of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and the Transit of Venus. More than 320 speakers have taken part in these trainings; the speakers are mission scientists, engineers, EPO personnel, and others.
SSEP volunteers then take the information and resources from the training telecons and share it with the public.
From the evaluation report:
The Solar System Educators:
- All four felt that the impact was very positive, citing reasons like newfound excitement, making them better teachers, afforded opportunities they would not have been, met new people who they can always contact.
- One teacher now feels he is looked upon as a resource.
- Some of the SSEs felt that NASA now respects them.
“I’m looked at as a resource base within the school, the community, and the state.”
- Teachers mentioned that the material they have presented to their students raises their interest in and excitement about space science.
- “It has made a big difference in what I am able to communicate about how scientists work and about the excitement of studying space-related materials.”(Georgi Delgadillo, SSEP)
- “They are extremely excited about space. I went into all schools last year. 5th graders have it in their curriculum. They want to know what’s coming. Very enthusiastic.”
Audiences reached by the SSEP program include:
- Early childhood educators and students (preK)
- Elementary educators and students (grades K-5)
- Middle school educators and students (grades 6-8)
- High school educators and students (grades 9-12)
- Higher Education educators and students
- Afterschool educators and students
- Informal educators and audiences
- Families with children
- Underserved and/or underrepresented audiences
- Pre-service teachers
- Homeschool students
- Differently-abled people of all ages
In addition to training their local teachers on the use of NASA’s STEM educational materials, Solar System Educators also encourage school districts to include these products in their approved curricula for all teachers, not just the ones who attended the SSEP workshops. That helps secure the continuity of the product even after the trained teacher leaves the district.
Over the years, Solar System Educators have been utilized by NASA and JPL EPO leads to field test and comment on products that were being planned. In some cases, like Cassini’s “Reading, Writing and Rings,” a few Solar System Educators played a major role in creating the product. Because most SSEPs have had long-lasting relationships with NASA and JPL, they are quite familiar with the NASA missions and the agency’s education portfolio. They play an important role as advisors to NASA/JPL EPO.
For her work with the SSA and SSEP programs, the Coordinator received the following awards...
- NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2006
- Astronomy Outreach Outreach Award in 2006
- JPL SPOT Award in 2003
- NASA Team Honors Awards in 2009, 2007, 2006 and 2005