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This February, students in Shannon Crawford’s 5th grade science class at the Virginia Virtual Academy (VAVA) had the opportunity to have a live Skype session with NASA Ames Research Scientist Kristina Pistone. Dr. Pistone spent over two hours with students answering questions that they formulated about climate and atmospheric research as well as her personal career goals and background.

This is Shannon’s first year teaching 5th grade science at VAVA, but she knew before the school year started that she wanted to bring science to life in her class. “I was able to secure the Skype session through the program Skype-a-Scientist, which I found out about through our VAVA lead teacher,” she explained.

The process for the “Skype-a-Scientist” program is done through an online application where teachers can give preference for the particular field of study they are looking for. Once accepted, teachers are matched with the scientist via email to find times and dates for them to collaborate in the classroom. For her class, Shannon had a special request while applying for the program: “I remember being a young girl in the 80’s and rarely seeing women in the field of science, so when I filled out the application I requested a female scientist so my students could understand that women were also prevalent in the field!”

During the Skype call, Dr. Pistone encouraged students to guide the session and ask any questions they wanted, whether they were academic or career-oriented. Shannon was pleased that many students were curious about how Dr. Pistone became a NASA scientist, whether she had mentors to guide her educational journey, and even how she felt being a female scientist in a typically male-dominated profession. “I think one of the biggest things that the students took away from the session is that with grit, passion, and a support system they can achieve their educational goals,” Shannon said.

Teaching science in a virtual setting is unique in that there is so many opportunities for hands-on experiences with the correct planning. Shannon uses the flexibility of teaching at VAVA by preplanning activities for maximum student involvement. “I do my best to email my students and their learning coaches a week in advance with the option to participate in the upcoming week’s lesson, as well as providing them with a list of supplies that will be needed to be able to complete experiments at home,” she explained. Shannon’s computer camera is always on during class and she’s able to communicate with students directly if they are having any problems.

In the future, Shannon hopes to incorporate more speakers in her classroom so her students can be exposed to the world outside of their everyday learning environment.  “I have a coworker with a family member in the field of science that I hope can join our classroom before the end of the year,” she said. “Additionally, I have been in touch with Dr. Pistone about the possibility of another Skype session with my 4th grade students. Fingers crossed!”

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