Evanston Middle School eighth-grade science class wins NASA competition


It was an exciting day for eighth-grade science teacher Ashley Graham when she announced to her fifth hour class that they had won an award. Her class won the NASA TechRise Student Challenge which aims to advance space exploration and enhance knowledge of Earth.

Graham said, “NASA does a contest in conjunction with Future Engineers every year where they do things that are getting to a better understanding of our world or continuing on with space exploration.” Topics to choose from this year ranged from understanding pollution to growing plastics in the atmosphere. Her students had to pick a project and create their experiment with a weight limit and dollar value budget. All of her classes submitted their proposal at the end of October. Graham was told in December that her class had won.

The winning proposal focused on how to store seeds in space and requirements to grow food on Mars or the moon. Challenges included keeping seeds alive on another planet with different temperature and atmosphere. Graham’s class will put their seeds in a plexiglass box that they make themselves, which will be sent on a high-altitude balloon into the stratosphere. Students plan to put some seeds in a thermos and packing material. The goal is to keep the seeds safe while they are in space so they can grow later. Graham said her students did research on technology that already exists, such as where seeds can stay viable in freezing temperatures. Students were challenged with science as well as math, technology and even art, as they had to draw parts of the experiment.

The class will meet with people from Aerostar, NASA and Future Engineers for guidance on how to build their device. There will be a showcase in May for all the devices being sent up on high altitude balloons. Two balloons will be sent up with 30 projects on each balloon. Graham’s class will be the first Wyoming winner to go up in a balloon. The balloons are scheduled to be sent up to the atmosphere sometime this summer.     

This is Graham’s second year teaching eighth-grade science. She said she wanted to find a way to include engineering and space in her science unit which got her looking at the NASA TechRise Student Challenge. Graham said she knew she needed to focus on engineering but wanted to get her students thinking about things that are space related as well. She said, “This project was a great way to get students thinking about real world problems.” When she announced her class as the winner, she said the students were really excited. Now they have work to do with a deadline for their project in May. The students will receive $1,500 to build their project. Graham said, “All the students worked so hard and learned so much from this. It was amazing to watch them take the lead and go.” 

The Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium sponsors education and research programs in the state of Wyoming in support of NASA missions, serving as a link between citizens of the state and NASA programs. Programs include research fellowships and internships for students at the University of Wyoming and Wyoming community colleges, scholarship programs for community college students in STEM majors, grants for college and university faculty, and educational resources and programs for Wyoming K-12 students and teachers.

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