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Physical Science teachers and students work with NASA on a citizen science project

Several classes of Hampton City Schools physical science students have been working with Dr. Sten Odenwald, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and educators at the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), to collect data on noise pollution as a part of the citizen science project Silent Earth. Joining approximately 500 other participants from across the globe, students at Jones Magnet Middle School (JMMS) and the Spratley Gifted Center (SGC) have been using a sound meter app on their Chromebooks to locate the quietest places in the environment. Contributing data to a NASA-driven citizen science project provided the context and was imperative for HCS students to learn about sound.

In consultation with Dr. Odenwald and Dr. Sharon Bowers (senior STEM educator at NIA), Sheryl McLaughlin (JMMS science teacher and Virginia Association of Science Teachers RISE Remote Teaching Award winner) worked with Betsy McAllister (HCS STEM teacher specialist and educator in residence at NIA) to create an engaging and experiential 7E instructional lesson on sound that prepared students for participation in the project. 

McLaughlin, as well as Debra Hicks and Brandy Bergenstock, SGC science teachers, field tested the lesson, which included a variety of sound investigations designed to help students explore and construct their own understanding of sound waves, pitch and intensity.


“The importance of hands-on science can't be understated. All students should feel like scientists. The idea that we are actively building a body of knowledge and making a difference through collective contributions is a passion we should try to light every day,” says Bergenstock.


Becca LeCompte of the Innovation and Professional Learning (IPL) team created an instructional video that teachers used to walk students through how to calibrate the Sound Meter app, take sound intensity readings, and upload their data to the Silent Earth project.


Students were then challenged to find the quietest locations in their outdoor environment, take multiple readings and upload their data that will be used to investigate the effects of noise pollution on human and ecosystem health.

Once Odenwald, McLaughlin, Hicks, Bergenstock, and McAllister meet to make final modifications to the lesson, it will be ready for all physical science students to engage in during the 2021-2022 school year.

McLaughlin noted, “It has been exciting to work on a project created by a NASA scientist, where our students are collecting real-world data as citizen scientists. A parent emailed to tell me her son came home the day the project was introduced saying how fun science was!”