InterGovWorld’s Spotlight series profiles Executives, decision-makers and their initiatives across all levels of Canadian government.
Part 1 of InterGovWorld’s Spotlight on Marilyn Steinberg, program manager for space awareness learning at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Senior writer Lisa Williams spoke with Steinberg about her work as an educator, the exciting work the CSA is doing with students, and their innovative Tomatosphere Program.
Tell me about the work you do at the Canadian Space Agency as program manager, specifically your work in space awareness and learning.
I was asked to come to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and use my education, business and communications background to renew the learning program. That was my first role. It was taking a look at the program, its approach, and creating an infrastructure that made sense given the size of the program from a budget perspective.
Space program mission
The mission and mandate of this program is to increase scientific literacy of students and educators with the purpose of ensuring that both groups are well equipped and inspired to pursue science learning. We want to ensure students are able to go farther in their academia and to pursue careers in science and technology. Of course if that included careers in the space program we would certainly be very happy about that as well.
The idea was to create, or recreate, a program that would fulfill those objectives, so that’s really my role here. Each part of the program is developed with those particular objectives in mind. The first thing I looked at from an educator’s perspective is what an educator would need as a support mechanism.
This includes knowing what an educator would need in the classroom at the primary and the secondary level. This led me to develop a pedagogical resource end of the program to ensure that educators would have the physical tools to bring into their classroom.
Space as a tool
We’re teaching space, but we’re using space to teach, which is really important because it allows us to focus on the curriculum requirements that educators would have at the primary and secondary levels right across the country.
We weren’t going to create something that was an add-on but something that would fit in and truly act as a support to the educator. You can create wonderful tools whether it’s digital or physical tools and applications, but from an IT perspective if your user doesn’t have a sufficient background or isn’t comfortable with the content, they’re not going to use it. We decided to design a professional development program that is focused on delivering the curriculum.
Our professional development is delivered by our scientists and engineers and what distinguishes our program is that we provide professional development for our scientists and engineers before we ever allow them access to the education community. They have to understand curriculum requirements in order to understand the learning environment of the classroom and the strategies that the educators will implement. This is done so every child in the classroom reaps benefit from the learning opportunity the educator provides and by expansion that we provide the educator.
CSA resources and support
We have about 600 people here at the CSA and 60 work with us on an ongoing basis in our education program. We look at technology and the capacity of technology not just to bring the scientist and engineer directly into the classroom but to bring them into the classroom in a way that would be truly interactive.
The students have direct access to the expertise that we have at the CSA so they can do some hands on, minds on, problem solving in a way that will lead them in the direction of a science and technology career.
The launch of telelearning and videoconferencing
Our distance and telelearning program was established in 1999. We started off using Web- casting technology and then went farther and tried satellite technology. I decided we would pursue the video conferencing route because I found the quality of the interaction just couldn’t be beat. Videoconferencing, used properly, created the best learning climate out of all the different technologies that we had used. It took time because we had to train our hosts to deal with what could be a barrier if not used properly and we also had to begin working with our education community and technical communities in different parts of the country who were interested in implementing and moving forward with that technology.
‘Out of this world’ learning experiences
We have a special project program where we, along with other organizations, collaborate to design hands-on and minds-on projects. These are longer term projects that allow students to participate in the science of the Canadian Space Program at their level.
A really good example would be the Tomatosphere Program. It is a program whose content resides on the web — where the active portion of the program is in the classroom. It can be found online at www.tomatosphere.org. We’ve been doing Tomatosphere for five years now. This year alone we have over 7,400 classrooms with about 210,000 students at the primary-secondary level who are participating. We considered ending the program but there was such an outcry within the education community that we continued.
We also have a speaker program and a grants and contributions program. Our contributions program funds not-for-profit organizations who want to design, develop, and implement materials, plans and programs using the Canadian Space Program content to deliver something inspiring, engaging and learning-enriched to Canada’s youth.
Stay tuned for part two coming soon.
To visit the Canadian Space Agency’s web site, click here.
Click here to access an archive of all past InterGovWorld spotlights.