Dawn Mission


Since 2001, the Dawn Mission’s education programs share the excitement of exploration and discovery and a greater understanding of our solar system with approximately 250 K-12 teachers, higher education faculty and informal educators each year and - through them – with approximately 26,500* students. Dawn’s outreach brings cutting-edge solar system science to more than 4,000,000 members of the general public each year, including virtual celebrations, web and social media content, and interactions with the Dawn Team.

More about the Dawn Mission E/PO programs can be found at: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/education.

*Based on 2012 metrics reported to NASA’s Office of Education Performance Measurement System. Student numbers may be slightly high, however, the majority of educators are K-12 teachers. Dawn reaches approximately 19% grade K-4 educators (estimated 25 students per year), 66% grade 5-8 educators (estimated 125 students per year), and 15% grade 9-12 educators (125 students per year).


Science Mission

The Dawn Mission, part of NASA’s Discovery Program, delves into the unknown, drives new technology innovations, and achieves what's never been attempted before. In Dawn’s case, this means orbiting one member of the main asteroid belt, Vesta, before heading to gather yet more data at a second, Ceres. Dawn's goal is to characterize the conditions and processes of the solar system's earliest epoch by investigating in detail two of the largest protoplanets remaining intact since their formations. Ceres and Vesta reside in the extensive zone between Mars and Jupiter together with many other smaller bodies, called the asteroid belt. Each has followed a very different evolutionary path constrained by the diversity of processes that operated during the first few million years of solar system evolution.

Education and Outreach Mission and Approach

From the beginning in 2001, the E/PO plan focused its efforts on creating products that help students, faculty, and the general public understand the Dawn Mission and share in the anticipation and expectation of Dawn’s arrival at Vesta and Ceres – as a window into the amazing story of how our solar system formed and has changed through time.

The length of Dawn’s mission offers an uncommon opportunity for E/PO to develop comprehensive content modules and activities that introduce the E/PO audience to the knowledge and insight of the science team and those working in the field of solar system origins. In this way, the public can “participate” in the mission as it unfolds. Students starting in the 7th grade at launch would be in their sophomore year of high school by arrival at Vesta, and in their sophomore year of college by arrival at Ceres.

Dawn E/PO has taken advantage of evolving technologies, promoting web-delivered material and interactive, flexible mission-related products. For example, although each content module is a two-to-three week classroom content module, individual lessons can be implemented as stand-alone activities in classes or informal settings. Our modules’ interactive components help students develop conceptual understanding and are highly engaging. This variety of resources allows diverse audiences to access our materials: the Explorer Guide (for independent learners), the Teacher Guide (for classroom teachers), and the Leader Guide (for informal learning settings). In this way, we are able to disseminate our products in various venues and to a wide range of audiences.

Leveraging existing government-funded educational tools and practices also is a high priority – these include integrating National Science Education Standards, applying National Science Foundation-funded Calibrated Peer Review, and connecting to previous NASA education and public outreach efforts such as Clickworkers.

Finally, to direct our work over each phase of the mission, the E/PO team is producing the Dawn Guide. This chronicling of E/PO efforts over the years of the mission, along with our regular evaluation reports, will serve as a resource for many NASA mission education and public outreach initiatives in the future.

Requirements and Guiding Principles:

Dawn’s E/PO plan recognizes three essential underpinnings to effectively enhancing educator, student, and public engagement in space science.

  • Products and activities that reflect “best practices” in education (standards-driven, pedagogically appropriate for all K-14 students, including underserved and underutilized)
  • Practical and technologically efficient systems for reaching, communicating with, and disseminating products and services to educators and the public.
  • A broad range of working partnerships that 1) take advantage of the resources of related projects and groups and 2) assure that products meet educational needs at a national level.

Dawn E/PO turned to standards and expectations articulated by NASA and other national and space education agencies as the team developed its mission. The NASA E/PO Strategic Plan requests that education and public outreach efforts “communicate widely the content, relevancy, and excitement of NASA’s mission and discoveries to inspire and to increase understanding and the broad application of science and technology,” and “involve the educational community in our endeavors to inspire America’s students, create learning opportunities, and enlighten inquisitive minds.” Additionally, Dawn’s E/PO team is supportive of the Office of Space Science (OSS; later renamed the Science Mission Directorate) initiatives contained in Partners of Education: A Strategy for Integrating Education and Public Outreach into NASA’s Space Science Program [1995] and the accompanying implementation plan, Implementing the OSS E/PO Strategy [1996].

Standards-driven, learner-centered materials developed by Dawn E/PO provide meaningful support to educators. They are designed to help teachers focus student inquiry on real phenomena through the context of space exploration of Vesta and Ceres, increasing the mathematical, scientific, and technological awareness of students, parents, and the public.

The educational content of products and services developed by the Dawn team is guided by, and aligned with, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Principles and Standards for School Mathematics [2001]; the National Science Education Standards (NSES) [1996], developed by the National Research Council in collaboration with science educators and scientists across the country; and the International Society for Technology’s National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (ISTE NETS) [2000]. This content is linked to other subject areas through identification and articulation of content standards and benchmarks in McREL’s Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education, 3rd Edition, [2000], a synthesis of information from more than 137 documents and reports, including AAAS’s Benchmarks for Science Literacy 2061 [1992, 1993], compiled by professional education organizations in 14 content areas.

Building On Existing Programs and Resources:

The Dawn EP/O plan builds upon existing programs and resources within NASA and other government agencies.

  • Our E/PO team represents a spectrum of expertise – K-12 and higher education teaching experience, informal education expertise, STEM experience in the private sector, electronic media and informational technologies expertise, and science content expertise through practicing scientists and E/PO specialists – as well as resources for this purpose.
  • We actively solicited experience gained by those who have gone before, reviewing several E/PO plans from other missions and participating regularly in sponsored conferences and NASA Forum activities.
  • Dawn E/PO includes numerous scientists from the science team, who share experiences and perspective, write and review Dawn E/PO content, collaborate to create educational activities and resources, interpret mission findings to share in educational resources and with the public, and interact with the public through presentations and social media efforts.
  • Our partner, McREL brought extensive K-12 experience, contacts, resources, and personnel onto the team.
  • Including a practicing educator as the Dawn Mission E/PO Lead brought a fresh look to E/PO possibilities and extended the number of contacts and experience upon which to draw.

We immediately worked to develop working relationships with the small planetaria consortium, the Solar System Ambassadors, JPL Open House, other mission E/PO’s. For example, we built upon the Career Connections materials originally developed for NASA’s Genesis mission: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/people/careers/index.asp

We also looked outside of traditional NASA resources to tap into other programs that had been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), such as UCLA’s Perceptual Learning Modules ( PLM), Calibrated Peer Review (CPR), and Interactive Multi-Media Exercises (IMMEX). We attempted to generate additional programs by submitting proposals to NSF and NASA that could build upon and expand activities in small body research and educational opportunities. In addition, we took advantage of existing evaluation instruments; using these instruments allowed us to compare our work with other research in the field of STEM education.

Finally, the distinct phases of the Dawn Mission – planning, launch, arrival, and data analysis – provide particular educational opportunities.

Working with mission and science team members from NASA Centers and universities, the Dawn E/PO team drew on McREL’s staff of education developers and multimedia specialists to develop products supportive of mission milestones and compliance standards. Dawn E/PO is attracting educators, students, and the general public for the entire length of the mission by creating standards-based, web-delivered materials for formal and informal education settings. These materials are available to anyone at any time through Dawn’s website http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov, via interactive web pages, PowerPoint presentations, streaming video, listservs, and more traditional education formats, such as guided classroom activities. Access to standards-based materials is not limited by time or location, and consequently the opportunities for math, science, and technology literacy enhancement of students and the general public is improved.

Lead Organizations

The Dawn E/PO program is led by Joe Wise of New Roads School, with primary partners including Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) and evaluators from Magnolia Consulting




Dawn mission E/PO has striven for collaborative partnerships to engage our collective audiences in the power of STEM to make a positive impact on our world.

To galvanize Dawn’s E/PO objectives, the team partnered with Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL), a leader in standards-based research and evaluation-backed curriculum and professional development with previous NASA E/PO experience. McREL’s resources include expert personnel and associations with schools and districts over a wide demographic range and geographical area.

In addition to working with McREL, the E/PO team contracted with Magnolia Consulting to conduct formal reviews and evaluation of the E/PO process and materials so that subsequent E/PO groups could benefit from lessons learned.

From its inception, Dawn has supported existing NASA initiatives, being a resource for and sharing out science content, activities, and pedagogical expertise as requested to Solar System Ambassadors, Education Resource Centers, and AESP educators. In addition, we have explored NSF and DOE funded projects to leverage dollars and research in an attempt to maximize benefit.

Dawn contributed activities and connected scientists to Small Bodies, Big Concepts, a NASA EPOESS grant creating a professional development model highlighting space science content for middle school educators. We have long engaged with Amateur Astronomer networks, regional observatories and astronomy clubs for both single site opportunities.

To develop our citizen science projects, we originally worked with Clickworkers, and more recently with CosmoQuest to launch Asteroid Mappers, which has drawn in over 900 users, contributing 536,590 map marks that are being incorporated into the science team’s data set.

Dawn E/PO has also been a leader in supporting the Discovery and New Frontiers multi-mission, multi-site educator workshops, bringing current, cutting edge thematic materials to more than 400 formal and informal educators over the past three years.



Effectiveness and Impact

Through the dissemination of high-quality and useful information, activities, and materials, the E/PO team is meeting its goals of increasing the public’s engagement, interest and understanding of the Dawn Mission.

Evaluation Overview:

Educational research is expensive and difficult to accomplish. Together with our evaluator and science team, we set focused goals that were measureable and attainable.

  1. To determine areas of need for educational materials
  2. To provide materials using best pedagogical practices and current information in a dynamic form for formal and informal educators.

Dawn’s Education and Public Outreach initiatives are diverse, using more traditional methods of curriculum and educator professional development as well as extending opportunities through multi-media platforms, all using the Dawn website as the E/PO hub. Science content modules and professional development workshops and classroom opportunities are infused with research-based pedagogical strategies that intensify effective science learning and tie to National Science Standards (now Next Generation Science Standards) to deepen impact. Evaluation of the efficacy of Dawn’s materials and initiatives to inform the team on best ways to improve the mission’s contribution to NASA E/PO as a whole is critical to assessing our impact and determining next best steps to always improve our educational impacts.

“The Dawn E/PO team has taken a systematic and well-conceptualized approach to the design and implementation of outreach efforts associated with the Dawn mission. The team clearly identified key stakeholders including the public, educators, and their students and designed materials with targeted outcomes for each group in mind. Additionally, Dawn E/PO is unique and innovative in identifying other E/PO providers as key stakeholders, seeking to leave a “legacy” behind not only through the creation of an exemplary website and materials, but also by documenting the process and products of E/PO efforts for others to learn from.”

– From the Dawn external evaluator

Our external reporting demonstrates that we were successful in creating materials that were needed, useful, and effective.

Dawn E/PO Impacts

Content Modules:

Curriculum modules have been developed since the start of the mission to engage students in the background knowledge core to appreciating this unique Discovery program mission. They were developed initially for grades 6-14, with adaptations for elementary and informal settings. Activities are sequenced to develop conceptual understanding. After internal and science review, the materials are piloted to get both student and educator feedback, feedback is incorporated into the materials and they are submitted for NASA IGES review. Materials are promoted through a diversity of workshops, both face to face and on-line, and increasingly through social media.

Three content modules are complete: Discovery of Asteroids (with strong literacy component), Ion Propulsion (including an interactive game modeling the system), and Interactions of Energy and Matter (with accompanying interactives that unpack the STEM concepts behind Dawn’s instrument payload). A fourth and fifth synthesizing data gathered at Vesta and Ceres and the next steps for NASA’s asteroid exploration are in development. Other resources include Find a Meteorite, Flashback in Time, Dawn Team interviews and podcasts, numerous activities, and Career Connections.

Findings: From pilot testing to workshop reviews highlighting Dawn materials from 2006—present show they are valued (as rated by percentage good and very good in evaluations) for scientific accuracy and enhancing:

  • participant awareness, appreciation and understanding of the Dawn mission
  • offering connections to the NASA mission’s real-life STEM in action
  • deepening space science content
  • standards alignment enhancing utility and students’ efficacy in meeting those standards
Further, Dawn’s professional development workshops are also ranked high:
  • The quality of materials and resources, presentation, activities (4.85 on a scale of 1-5)
  • The usefulness of materials and resources, presentation, activities (4.75 on a scale of 1-5)

Dissemination occurred through an average of 250 educators/year in conferences and workshops, as well as through the website, where all materials are accessible. In 2012, Dawn began a series of on-line professional development and outreach events; the three events to date have drawn in over 650 viewers. The team strategically leverages resources by joining Discovery Program outreach providers in presenting thematic workshops that focus on cross-mission science topics.

On March 10, 2012, 120 K-12 educators gathered at four sites to experience a teacher professional development workshop conducted via a collaboration of the Discovery and New Frontiers Programs with the Dawn, MESSENGER and New Horizons missions. Scientists Ralph McNutt, Bonnie Buratti, and Nancy Chabot presented the latest updates from the three missions and amazing images from asteroid Vesta and Mercury. The sessions took place at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena; Johnson Space Center, Houston; Applied Physics Lab, Laurel, MD; and Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Portland. The live webinar attracted 240 viewers.

Materials Adapted for Informal Settings:

For Vesta Fiesta, a set of events celebrating Dawn’s arrival at Vesta, materials written for the middle and high school were adapted for our events (and resubmitted for NASA review for the new audience).

  • Ninety-seven percent of event hosts believed the games and activities provided were good or excellent.
  • All event hosts indicated they would host a future event.
  • Over 22,000 individuals read about Vesta Fiesta on the Dawn Mission Web site, and Vesta Fiesta events took place August 5–7, 2011 at 109 locations worldwide.
  • Event hosts downloaded a wide variety of activity sheets as well as recruitment and presentation materials for the event.
  • Event hosts frequently reported showing PowerPoint presentations, having Vesta viewings, playing games/participating in activities, and hearing from guest speakers.

NASA’s Dawn mission reported a total of 109 Vesta Fiesta events held on five continents during the August 5-7, 2011 viewing opportunity of protoplanet Vesta. Live events were enhanced by virtual interactions through NASA Digital Learning Network.  Events included the Ravinia's Music & Astronomy Under the Stars Festival in Chicago, IL with approximately 9,000 people in attendance, and the event at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA reaching 5,000 people. The Flagship event in Pasadena, CA was visited by 1,158 members from the general public, with one-quarter of them being students.

Website as Real-World STEM Resource: Dawn’s site had individuals viewing 15,223 pages in 2006 and 3,836,796 in 2011, with over 22,000 views of specific educational activity PDFs. Substantial metrics:

  • Since 2008, with an increased presence since 2010, Dawn has striven to offer an additional engagement with the public through social media.
  • Questions are answered (the E/PO team solicits support from the Dawn team when a questions is out of their expertise).
  • Storylines help readers learn and make connections to Dawn E/PO elements such as Image of the Day, Dawn’s Ion Engine, NASA’s Discovery Program missions to comets and asteroids, NASA in the news, asteroids and meteorites and other small solar system worlds in the news, as well as any Dawn team member presentations and articles.
  • Links, ideas, and connections are offered from those stories to supportive Dawn materials on the website.
  • 12,866 followers on Twitter; 2,714 likes on Facebook (with substantial reach of articles, images – over 75-1000 views per posting common); and the latest, Google +, 514 have Dawn in their circles.
Across the 2009–2010 and 2010–2011 reporting periods, the Dawn Mission Web site received a combined 7,076,500 hits and 2,778,173 page views. The majority of visitors across both reporting periods visited the Dawn Homepage, Mission Section: Where is Dawn Now? page, and the Mission Section: Main page. Additionally, at least 4,300 users in 2009–2010 and at least 5,000 visitors in 2010–2011 downloaded the Dawn Mission Fact Sheet. The Ion Propulsion Charges Student Reading was downloaded approximately 2,000 times during each reporting period, and the Ion Propulsion Student Reading was downloaded approximately 1,700 to 2,000 times over each reporting period.

Across both reporting periods, visitors found the site to be a useful resource that was easy to navigate, well organized, and with accurate content. Site visitors also believed the site increased their understanding of the solar system and increased interest in Dawn Mission science content. Overall, visitors believed the site mostly met their needs and rated the overall site as good. Respondents mentioned multimedia, the Mission Overview, and the overall site as favorite site aspects. Common requests for additional information pertained to more frequent images or videos of Vesta and more frequent status updates.

The Dawn Team offers Google + Hangout as a way of reaching the general public with information as well as providing professional development for formal and informal educators. The Google + comes with its own metrics and new ways for tracking retention and effectiveness. We were working to develop communities around those activities that would allow for inexpensive and reliable data for effectiveness and reach.

Citizen Scientists Get Involved with Dawn Science and Scientists!

Dawn has partnered with CosmoQuest to develop citizen science as a way to inform and educate while providing essential data for Dawn's science team. Over 900 users made 452,087 crater marks (note: this is not the actual number of physical craters identified, as multiple people are shown the same craters to verify results).  Users have made 84,503 "other" marks (i.e. boulders, odd features, etc.) for a total of 536,590 map marks made on Vesta by citizen scientists.

Dawn Evaluation reports:

First Year Evaluation Report (PDF)

Second Annual Report (PDF) 

October 2005 – June 2007 (PDF) 

July 2007 - July 2008 (PDF) 

August 1, 2008 – July 2009 (PDF) 

Feb 15, 2011 Summative Report (PDF) 

August 1, 2009 – July 31st 2011 (PDF)