Four NISD high school science teachers selected for NASA program

Four science teachers posing with telescope in science lab classroom
February 26, 2019

Four Northside ISD high school science teachers have been selected as 2019 NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA).

The AAA program is a professional development opportunity for high school science teachers designed to improve science teaching and learning and increase student STEM engagement. The program, managed by the SETI Institute since its inception in 2011, has partnered with 14 school districts and 28 teachers in eight states this year.

The Northside ISD participants are:

  • Lauren Malik, physics teacher, Taft High School
  • Terrence Martin, astronomy and physics teacher, Taft High School
  • Melissa Pagonis, physics and chemistry teacher, Stevens High School
  • Anne Schnabel, physics and Earth & Space science teacher, Clark High School

Pictured left to right: Terrence Martin, Melissa Pagonis, Lauren Malik, and Anne Schnabel. 

AAA participant teachers receive training in astrophysics and planetary science content and pedagogy. Their training includes a week-long immersion experience this fall at NASA’s science research aircraft facility in Palmdale, California with participation in research flights onboard NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP airliner that is fitted with a 2.5-meter (100-inch) telescope and uses a suite of seven cameras and spectrographs to study celestial objects at infrared wavelengths. SOFIA operates during 10-hour overnight science missions at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet (12-14 kilometers), above more than 99 percent of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere that blocks infrared light from reaching ground-based observatories.

“NASA’s SOFIA observatory provides a fantastic opportunity for teachers to better understand and appreciate the research process by interacting with scientists and mission crew members,” said Dr. Dana Backman, AAA program Principal Investigator. “The teachers can then take what they learn back to their classrooms, schools, and school districts, conveying the value of scientific research and adding real-world content to high school learning environments. The AAA's first-hand experiences also can illuminate the wide variety of STEM career paths available to students.”

The NISD teachers will all participate in research flights aboard the SOFIA later this year.

The program culminates in classroom delivery of a SOFIA science-oriented curriculum module.  Malik, who has been teaching for 10 years, is excited to share the experience with her students.

“I try to show my students how physics and science can be used and integrated in their everyday lives,” Malik said. “As an educator, I try to find new ways to challenge myself and to learn new things that I can share with my students and coworkers. Through the professional development, I will be able to find new ways to bring this joy and excitement of learning to my campus as well as spark an interest in STEM fields before the students graduate.”

Malik’s colleague at Taft, Terrence Martin, has been teaching for 15 years after serving in the United States Army. He looks forward to building connections in the scientific community that will benefit his students.

“I can show as many demonstrations and tell innumerable comedic anecdotes so that my students love science class, and even convince them that they may want to be a scientist,” Martin said. “However nothing can replace the direct connection that students make when they talk to, and interact with people who are actual scientists and engineers.”

Pictured from left to right are Taft HS colleagues Malik and Martin. 

Schnabel, who has also been teaching for 10 years, said her interest in teaching science was actually shaped by her own negative experience in high school.

“Fortunately times have changed, but I actually had a negative experience with high school physics, back in the day when few girls were taking advanced sciences,” Schnabel said. “My blatantly chauvinistic teacher actually redirected me to the home economics room, since I must be lost and it was a very challenging class. Despite his archaic position on women in science, he inadvertently made me more determined to excel in the class while laying the foundation for me to want to help ALL my students see that they can succeed in the sciences and find careers in STEM.”

Clark HS physics and Earth and Space Science teacher Anne Schnabel

A desire to share their passion for science with students was a motivating factor for NISD educators to apply for the AAA program.

“I applied because I love space science, and I'm always looking for new ways to incorporate it into anything I'm teaching,” said Pagonis, who has been teaching high school science for seven years. “I've also attended other NASA workshops, and they're always exciting and give me new tools to use in my classroom!”

Stevens HS physics and chemistry teacher Melissa Pagonis. 

This is the first year Northside ISD has participated in the AAA program.

The teachers are pictured outside Taft HS with NISD High School Science Specialist Alice Fiedler.