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NASA Launches Educational Website 74

Rob writes to tell us Computer Business Review magazine is reporting that NASA has launched a new educational site targeting children in kindergarten through fourth grade. From the article: "The website aims to appeal to both parents and educators wishing to help develop children's knowledge in subjects such as science, technology and mathematics. [...] 'Our goal with the Kids' Club is to provide a medium that encourages children's interest in exploring the subjects important to developing early skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,' said Angela Phillips Diaz, NASA's acting assistant administrator for education."
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NASA Launches Educational Website

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  • Does this work? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Wellington Grey ( 942717 ) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @04:31AM (#15094145) Homepage Journal
    Interactive games on the site teach children about exploring space, building and launching rockets, keeping airplanes on schedule and how a comet travels through the solar system.

    Not that I don't appreciate NASA attempt, but does anyone know of any studies showing the effectiveness of computer games on learning? Both my experiences as a student and now as a science teacher tell me they are a worst of both worlds solution. Too much reading/obvious attempts to educate to make a fun game, far too shallow content to make a good lesson.

    -Grey [wellingtongrey.net]
    • Interactive games on the site teach children about exploring space, building and launching rockets, keeping airplanes on schedule and how a comet travels through the solar system.

      That's exactly who I want teaching my kids how to stay on schedule. The federal agency that can't get a space shuttle in the air more than once every couple of years.

      While we're at it, let's have the DoD and the Pentagon start an educational website to teach our kids how to shop around and get the best deal on toys.
    • Two Words... (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I feel that Math Blaster and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego taught me a lot when I was younger. Even if it didn't actually teach me that much (I don't disagree with you that educational games are somewhat shallow) it did show me that learning can be fun. Even now computer games are helping me, I'm learning Spanish by playing the Spanish version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. So while games are no replacement for formal education they certainly help the process.
    • does anyone know of any studies showing the effectiveness of computer games on learning?

      Does anyone know of any studies showing the effectiveness of sitting in rows in a room with a teacher and blackboard at the front of the class on learning?

      Hey, thats a hypothesis :)

      I was a geek when I was a kid and did not know it, and my dad one day brought home a few of NASA Spinoff publications. They still exist, info here: http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/ [nasa.gov]

      I believe I had 1976-1979 or so. Its an annual publication, and I
    • I'm still looking for studies on this. In my opinion, it does work, under some circumstances. I think it mostly depends on two things. 1) That it is done under supervision with guided instruction. A kid should know what he is learning and how he's accomplishing the learning. But this is true of just about any lesson. 2) Instant feedback. The answer is that kids don't need learning programs to be like video games with fighting and shooting. Kids need learning programs to be like video games in that they give
  • It seems to be that the best thing NASA could be doing now is trying to raise a generation that has the drive and vision to make private space ventures work. NASA itself is in trouble, we hear about that on Slashdot all the time (and Klerx's Lost in Space [amazon.com] is a good introduction to its problems). NASA should begin phasing out the shuttle program, instead pushing funding towards more educational ventures such as these. I wonder, though, if the age group targeted here (kindergarten to 4th grade) is too young; focusing on adolescents who are soon to enter university, graduate, and then take part in aerospace ventures would possibly result in faster results.

    I should mention that though I have my complaints about NASA, and many here are quick to tear it apart with vitriol, I think that for the time being it is the only force for robotic exploration of the universe. Private firms will be profit-driven, which for the time being means transportation from point to point on the globe, mining, and near-space tourism. Only an agency like NASA, not concerned with generating huge amounts of revenue and appeasing shareholders, would currently dare to send a probe to Pluto, for example. There is still room for encouraging children towards NASA's endeavours.

    • It seems to be that the best thing NASA could be doing now is trying to raise a generation that has the drive and vision to make private space ventures work.

      Very idealistic. However, few organizations have a purpose of putting themselves out of business.

      I think that for the time being it is the only force for robotic exploration of the universe. Private firms will be profit-driven, which for the time being means transportation from point to point on the globe, mining, and near-space tourism. Only an agency

      • Why only for "the time being?" Won't the reasons you give for NASA doing space exploration (as opposed to tourism, business, "transportation from point to point") always going to remain true? That is, that private firms "will be profit-driven," "concerned with generating huge amounts of revenue and appeasing shareholders?" These things are going to change over time?

        Eventually very distant trips like Pluto will be profitable. For the time being, however, they would not be attractive to private ventures, a

        • Eventually very distant trips like Pluto will be profitable.


          The usual answer (actually, speculation) is that there is some raw material there that we need, and as the cost comes down the trip will be worth it. What? Coal? Oil? Diamonds? Dilithium?

          But if the cost has come down to that point, what raw material could we possibly need or want so much to make the trip worth our time, if nothing else?

          Tourism? On Pluto?

      • Surely, a smart government agency would want to work towards reducing the costs for the 'day-to-day' stuff. If private space access firms appear, the cost of transportation to and from orbit and the development of the technologies involved will drop over time, which is to NASAs advantage. They end up with a number of suppliers they can outsource to for basic transportation, and they can devote their resources to the exploration and scientific missions, rather than the basic 'getting in to orbit' stuff.
      • Very idealistic. However, few organizations have a purpose of putting themselves out of business.

        I'm not sure how many people know what goes on at NASA, but they have already put themselves out of business.

        NASA is now more or less a mismanagement organization. Give me a second before you stop reading and hit the flamebait button. NASA for the most part is old. Very old in terms of technology. Most of the equipment they have is 20 to 40 years old. Because of the 8-10 year budget threats, they don't have
        • for ($pork;$American_people != "rubes" ;$pork++)
          print "We have to have the space shuttle because how else are we going to fly people to the space station! We have to have the spacestation because otherwise the space shuttlewouldn't have anywhere to fly to!"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 09, 2006 @04:44AM (#15094166)
    Upon looking through the website and I must say I'm disappointed.

    It aims to teach space science and technology through playing several interactive games and quizes. For example, at the highest level (5th), you are asked to "guide a comet" by getting nine trivia questions about the Solar system. Ok, it's probably good to know that it takes 365days for Earth to orbit around the Sun. But would that be truly thought provoking? (it might teach kids a method of elimination by logic, I admit).

    I just wonder what these people think as "scientific" education here. Knowing some stupid trivia about planets so important to become a scientist or an astronaut?

    Teaching science requires more than trivia or memorization games. The key is to make students think with logics. Maybe logic is too much for K-5, well, ok, then let them discover something by playing instead. Like gravity! The kids don't need to know the law of gravity. Just create a java applet that let you play with the mass of the Sun and let the kids adjust its mass to see what sort of effect the planets would see. Or, do the orbiting rocket. Let them "see" what happens when a rocket vehicle tries to catch up on another rocket ahead of it. By "catching up" the rocket behind the second one ignites its booster to "move faster". Let the kids see what would happens to the rocket when it's gone faster. It'll show them the intricacy of astrodynamics!

    The main problem on these NASA's EP/O is that the director / designers of the site often do not know what "science" is. I don't mean to single out Angela Diaz (wife of Al Diaz, who got canned from Goddard/NASA, I believe), but she's been known as manager, not exactly a teacher. Give real teachers the budget and make a better site than this, I would dare say!

    [I apologize for my rant. I'm just tired of these craps NASA produces these days.]
    • The uh, Airplane Puzzle on grade five is a simple logic puzzle..

    • I hope NASA didn't spend more than a few hundred bucks on this site, but as a designer I know what some people will charge for the shoddiest work, and it makes me want to hang my head in shame.

      I wouldn't be surprised if this site was put together by a placement student (intern) from a multimedia design course, who didn't seem to have much to do at NASA and someone gave them this project to do. The site is full of so many basic HCI mistakes that it makes me wonder if it wasn't even an intern but a high sc
    • Good ideas. Go for it! (or at least, send them the ideas, instead of posting them to slashdot, where they'll probably never be seen by the right folks at NASA...)

      I vaguely remember seeing some orbital sim applets on some university web site. Maybe there is some reason why they can't be snarfed by NASA. Or maybe the NASA folks don't think kids can hack this stuff. Maybe I'll start a new web site to gather up this stuff. Who's with me?

    • I had a tough choice to Mod Up or comment. I hope someone else will give +mod for an insightful comment. I agree, for even as an adult I would enjoy playing those types of "games". Even better, as a programmer I would love to write them, but lack the physics (even Newtonian) to master the code.

      I loved Physics in High School, wanted to major in physics in college, but after half a semester I understood I was not cut out for that science. Instead I found my passion in programming and have made a good care
    • I think (as many have stated already) NASA knows its in trouble. I took a look myself and honestly, I feel kind of bad for them.

      * They have no money to launch missions
      * They have no (significant) money for R&D
      * They have no money to hire the brains it takes to overcome problems they face
      * They have no money to hire managers that can bring in projects successfully

      Even though they remain operational they are kind of crippled. They just don't have the money to do the stuff they were created to do. So all t
      • Well, they have had most of their real science stuff gutted so that they can put on pointless shows of heroism to impress our dear leader.

        I mean, wtf is up with missions to the moon and mars? Mars is an interesting destination, but for robots. People whine about how a human being there could do so much more, but they forget that the robots we've been able to send so far all had to be EXTREMELY tiny and simple because they had to fit into a very tiny payload. If you were actually going to send human being
    • Ha!

      Obviously someone who didn't go through the American education system. The whole system is like that and I hated school because of it. 13 years of boring busy work. I distinctly remember my first experience with school (preschool) and how incredibly moronic I thought it was for us to sit around and cut pictures out of a magazine that related to some topic. The whole time I was thinking "What, do they think we are stupid?" I was 5 or 6 years old at the time and it was a harbinger of things to come...
    • This has been a major peeve of mine for a long time. There seems to be an assumption on the part of educational program designers that the proper way to make science palatable to kids is to dress it up as a cartoon and have streams of half-truths spew from the mouths of furry animated characters. That may be entertainment, but it's unlikely to spark the kind of inquisitiveness that will lead to an active interest in science or mathematics. So much so that, like you, I wonder whether the people that create (
      • A good way to determine how best to ignite an interest in science would be to ask actual scientists what it was that initially got them interested in figuring out the Why and How of things. I'll bet that most of them could give a pretty detailed accounting of that, and I'll bet you further that few, if any, of them were smitten while watching watered-down educational cartoons.

        Honestly? Most would probably say either, "I don't know, I've just always been fascinated by ___," or, "Well, one day I kind of luck
    • just looking around the site, it is all depressing lowest common denominator. but that's federal education schemes for you!

      on the "kids'" homepage there is also a weird video of Dubya doing a live linkup with the last Shuttle Crew[?] which actually depresses me even more. he waffles off some crap about the "importance of their mission" and "how proud the folks are", then the mission commander spiels off the latest BS NASA press release.

      NASAs manned mission has sadly lost its way and is rapid
  • Finally! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Null Nihils ( 965047 )
    A site that uses Flash animation and cheesy sound clips for a good reason: To amuse 6-year-old children!
  • But remember... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Simon Garlick ( 104721 ) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @05:25AM (#15094230)
    Whatever you do, don't mention climate change or poof! there goes your funding.
  • Our goal with the Kids' Club is to provide a medium that encourages children's interest in exploring the subjects important to developing early skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,'

    Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but isn't it the school's job to get kids interested in developing early skills in these things? Why are NASA, an organisation with the mandate to perform aeronautical and space activities [nasa.gov], filling in for the education system?

    (d) The aeronautical and space activities

    • Re:NASA? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tverbeek ( 457094 )
      I don't see "10. Make sure American kids aren't dumbasses when the education system drops the ball" on the list.

      That's because it's 0, a prerequisite to make 1-9 possible in the long run.

    • Education is pretty fucking important to anyone involved in the economy (which is to say, everyone), and saying "Why is XXX filling in for the education system?" is pretty much sticking your head in the sand. NASA needs the six year olds of today to be educated so they have a pool to draw from 15-20 years from now.

      I mean, jesus christ, you are basically criticizing an organization for trying to educate simply because they are not a school. Why?

  • What an original name. Kudos, NASA.


  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @05:57AM (#15094276) Journal
    to which orbit ?
  • by gameforge ( 965493 ) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @06:04AM (#15094292) Journal
    This is the wrong format to use for teaching basic level content like this. As others have pointed out, it's really easy basic stuff... one of the high-level (5) screens is like "Which of the following gives heat and light to the Earth?" Options: Moon, Sun, or Neptune. Fourth graders?! That's 9 and 10 year olds.

    Teaching this stuff isn't that difficult without using a website anyway. My elementary education was sufficient that by sixth grade I was very interested in astronomy, and was able to use the Internet to satisfy my curiosities; there were already flyby pictures of Io (Saturn moon) and from Venera 13 (Soviet Venus Lander), IIRC, on JPL's website in 1994 or 95. I didn't have Internet access in elementary school (and neither did my school), but I do vividly recall some astronomy projects I did in 2nd or 3rd grade; it went a lot deeper than "the sun gives off heat and light to the Earth, but Neptune and the Moon do not".

    If NASA wants to get involved in education, they should actually get involved with schools. Think how other effective government sponsored education campaigns for reading & whatnot have worked. Think about how companies like TI, Yamaha, or Apple have gotten involved with math, music & computers. And they manage to make money in schools! Could NASA not benefit from some other funding besides taxpayer dollars? Especially since there's already other taxpayer dollars delegated to education...

    Either way, a cheesy flash site with multiple-choice edutrivia is pretty worthless. Saving for telemetry engineers or something would have been a more worthwhile way to spend the money.
    • I have children - one of whom is in the target age range and who is playing Zoo Tycoon as the LOWEST (age) level game he plays with any real interest, which includes long descriptions of animals, their group habits, constructing their habitats, and whether they're headed towards extinction or not. It also is pretty demanding on the budget level, which helps my child learn that everything has a price, and sometimes LOWERING the entrance fee is more profitable than raising it. He's learned some ancient myth

  • by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @07:00AM (#15094372)
    Lesson 1: How not to confuse Metric and Imperial units
  • Nothing more entertaining than NASA TV, this site is totally redundant. On NASA TV you can enjoy incredible features such as:

    - an astronaut spending half an hour getting ready to pee in space
    - demonstrationg of an astronaut writing on a paper in space
    - an astronaut in space flies around in zero gravity
    - an astronaut approaches another astronaut in space and they play with water in zero gravity
    - an astrounaut talks with earth control staff about football
    - an astrounaut reads shuttle equipment manuals in spac
    • - an astrounaut reads shuttle equipment manuals in space (!!!)

      Astronauts once selected will train for a particular mission for about 10 months or much longer - it's not that unusual, especially when EVAs are involved, to start training a year and a half for a mission. So why should they need to read equipment manuals/checklists in space when they should have everything memorized?

      The answer is safety. NASA strongly discourages its astronauts from memorizing things like checklists and other safety c
  • A few years ago I noticed that whenever I saw NASA people on television or in pictures they looked "soft and pudgy". They often had that pasty, overweight, bureaucratic aura of decay about them. It seemed to me that the rugged individualists that characterized NASA in earlier days had passed the torch to baby-boomer pod-people types - all form and lacking in substance. This sort of "educational program" is just the sort of thing a feminized, moribund, nanny state bureaucracy would conjure up. It's like a to
  • by Octorian ( 14086 ) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @10:48AM (#15094776) Homepage
    That's right... It seems like NASA is full of education initiatives that cater to younger children. Children at that age tend to be easily interested in all sorts of new and exciting things, and don't need NASA's help. The problem is that they'll likely lose any and all interest once they get to an age where they can actually steer their future.

    I think NASA should focus much more on grades 9-12, where the goal actually is to prepare oneself for college and ultimately a future career. This is the critical time when we're loosing interest.
  • Does the U.S. require departments/agencies to create some kind of kid-friendly website? I'm not 100% sure, but a lot of government agencies with no real interest in them seem to have them.

    Just take a look, the Defense Intelligence Agency [dia.mil] has a "kids' site", the CIA has a kids' site, the [cia.gov] NSA [nsa.gov] has a website, and even the State Department [state.gov] has a kid's site where you can learn exciting things about SecState Rice meeting Elmo...

    Sure, some of them have a little bit of recruiting-type material on them, but most

  • FYI

    ESA Kids [esa.int] (in 6 languages :-)

    ESA Highschool [esa.int]
  • That's sad they did nothing inovative here. They use the classic matching pair over and over again. There is a lot of thinks a software can be usefull to help children. I can continue working on the educational software GCompris [gcompris.net].
  • BBC site rocks (Score:2, Informative)

    I have personally found the BBC site much better for kids. I have seen my kids playing around arranging planets in solar system [bbc.co.uk] and a pretty neat simulation of planets orbiting when you are done. And also their science page [bbc.co.uk] is really good for all ages.
    When I first saw the planet jigsaw puzzle(the first link), I searched in NASA sites and could not find a single site. Each lab seemed to have a different page of their own but didn't find them interesting.

    My kids camp out on the prehistoric games of animal [bbc.co.uk]
  • Well, I guess with the shuttles being grounded, they had to launch _something_.

  • ...for adults to probe for signs of intelligent life in cyberspace. Unfortunately one team working on the project was using the EB information capacity units defined as the data stored in one set of the Encyclopedia Britannica while the other team was using the more standard LOC units defined as the amount of information held in the US's Library of Congress. Just as the engineers were ready to celebrate a success, the server overheated and burnt up, and is now believed to be lost in the vicinity of a Sun Sp
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @01:28PM (#15095250)
    It's admirable to try to get students interested in science, but I don't think that's going to happen until a major change of some kind occurs. Not that it was ever "cool" to be a smart kid, but it seems like intelligence is more actively discouraged with kids these days. Here's the problems I see with science's image today:

    1. Older kids aren't stupid. They see their techie parents losing jobs and having their salaries cut because people half a world away work for a lot less and have a better work ethic in most cases. Given those facts, would you work your butt off in school and grad school for years on end to end up with a low-paying job, if you could find one?

    2. Kids also see that getting an MBA or a law degree is an instant ticket to success with much less hard work. Against that, science doesn't have a chance with anyone but the most hardcore types.

    3. For whatever reason, schools don't seem to be attracting the world's best teachers. I had some really excellent math and science teachers in my school career who got me interested in the material. Unless you have a really good teacher in an intro. science class, you'll never enjoy the subject.

    4. I'm probably going to piss off a lot of people now, but the trend towards religious fundamentalism in the US really hurts science as well. Religion and science don't mix. When enough of the religious crazies get into powerful positions, projects don't get funded. Examples of the problem are the whole evolution debate, stem cell research, etc. Until we get a moderate base of elected officials in office again, this will continue.

    I don't know what it will take to fix the problem, but anything that can be done is better than nothing!
  • NASA puts too much effort into marketing itself. Their marketing budget should be cut. They shouldn't be in the education business at all.

    If the Shuttle and ISS programs weren't on the verge of collapse, this might be allowable. But NASA needs focus, not marketing.

  • I find it interesting that NASA is trying to do all this education stuf, yet they cut their biggest educational program, Summer Internships. You can still do an internship at NASA, but they have stopped paying interns, so nobody will work for them. I spent the last to summers doing an unpaid internship at NASA's JSC being told that this summer I would be paid. So their choice to spend money developing this educational website is rather annoying, Here's and idea, hire summer interns to develop this websi
  • EdGCM [columbia.edu] is the Educational Global Climate Model, a NASA climate model that has been ported to run on Mac and PC with a GUI interface. Download it and it comes with default climate simulations (modern, global warming, paleo, etc.). Or you can design your own climates!
  • I just showed this to my kindergarden-aged daughter, and she wants to know why they didn't make it fun.
  • Okay...I see many people questioning the viability of this site. They view them as too simplistic or not up to snuff. Most of the people that read /. are educated individuals to which a majority of these games seem pointless ("Oh everyone should know that"), but these types of opinions are a disservice to those that are not educated or do not have the foundation to draw the proper conclusion.

    I only looked at the first one, but this quiz/game appears to attempt to get the student/player to be able to ident

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.