, Port Arthur, Texas

March 21, 2014

Woodcrest Elementary students get visit from NASA

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

PORT NECHES — Judy Martin and Gavin Turpen stood side by side, quickly breathing air into bottles each containing a balloon. After Jared Flynn called time 10 seconds later, it was apparent that Gavin had reached their objective — his balloon was larger than Martin’s.

The kindergartner returned to his seat to choruses of “Good job, Gavin,” from his classmates. Flynn then revealed that he duped Martin by cutting a hole in Gavin’s bottle.

“She was trying to push the balloon open, but the air was saying no,” Flynn, an employee with the Houston National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) outreach program in Houston, told Woodcrest Elementary kindergartners on Friday. “With his balloon, instead of pushing back, the air ran away.”

That demonstration was part of the school’s reward as winners of a district-wide race to communicate with educational entities in all 50 states via Skype. The competition began Oct. 21 and ended March 7. By Dec. 17, the Woodcrest faculty, staff and students had Skyped to all 50 states.

“Even the nurse and the school secretary helped out,” said Martin, the school’s technology assistant. “It was quite an undertaking.”

The prize was a visit from NASA, during which the students learned about life in zero gravity. Flynn gave the students a hands-on look into what suiting up for space is like, using props such as soft drink cans and marshmallows to illustrate how air pressure affects that process.

“We get an idea of what would happen to us,” Flynn said to the entranced students, holding up an engorged marshmallow. “That’s why a space suit is so very, very important.”

Not only did the contest offer scientific insights firsthand, students also learned about life outside of Southeast Texas through their Skype sessions. Teacher Lea Johnson said that she and several others flew to Angel Fire, N.M., during spring break to meet a class with whom the kindergartners are continuing to collaborate.

“It’s such a wonderful tool,” Dana Godair, the district’s technology helpdesk, said. “There’s so much you can learn and share with the other classrooms.”


Twitter: @ErinnPA