In doing this project, I was able to step back and allow my students to use their existing skills, self-identify areas where they need support and develop genuine questions.
As questions arose, students naturally used a large variety of resources to find answers: dictionaries were being pulled out, different teachers were consulted with, videos were pulled up, and the list goes on. It was powerful to not have the answers to all of their questions (what average person knows about coarsening of particles in metal?), instead researching and learning right alongside our students.
Speaking to the astronauts themselves was such a great reminder of the power of collaboration: the International Space Station was created by, and is staffed and run by, an international team. Despite being from different countries, cultures and backgrounds, the astronauts on the ISS work together toward a common goal that benefits all of us here on earth.
I think that students love any opportunity to do genuine work that has real-world value, pushes their thinking and allows them to work collaboratively. This project has made working for NASA into a tangible goal for many students and has helped students see themselves as capable scientists, reporters and researchers.