Well, this week and last were really successful for the cause of interactive videoconferencing in Oklahoma in two different schools I’ve been helping. For over a month I’ve been planning, coordinating, and helping facilitate a series of videoconference connections for third graders in Edmond Public Schools with three different NASA Learning Centers, part of the awesome NASA Digital Learning Network. Tuesday we connected to Virginia for “Next Step Mars” and to Houston for “Our Solar Neighborhood.” Wednesday we repeated “Next Step Mars” for a third class of third graders. Today we were supposed to connect to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for two sessions of “America’s Spaceport” about Cape Canaveral. (PDF)

The first three videoconference connections went GREAT!!!!! It was very exciting to make these first videoconference connections for both teachers and students. All the NASA teachers were enthusiastic, great instructors, and did a super job engaging the kids and truly making the videoconference an INTERACTIVE experience! The kids had lots of questions, and many got to ask them. We had just 20 students in each videoconference, to permit as much interactivity as possible.

Unfortunately our NASA teacher today in Florida came down sick last night, and was not able to connect with us. That was a disappointment, but these things happen! And in this case, it wasn’t the technology that got in the way!

I’d love to be able to tell everyone that H.323 videoconference virtual field trips like this are “super easy” to setup and facilitate, but I would NOT be honest if I made that claim. Unfortunately, in large part due to the network security wars that are ongoing on our school networks, it can be a painful and drawn out experience to get everything configured on the network for videoconferencing, ESPECIALLY if the IT people involved are not very experienced with video connections. Even if the IT folks are saavy, it takes time to schedule these connections, make test calls in advance, prep students and teachers with materials and curriculum, and then facilitate the actual calls the days of the videoconferences.

It has been a lot of work, but I am SO GLAD to have helped these Oklahoma teachers and students make successful videoconference connections at the end of this school year to NASA! Hopefully we’ve helped inspire some students to learn more about science and math. We did learn today that our next space shuttle mission is scheduled to launch in eight days, and then August 9th STS-118 is scheduled to launch with our first teacher in space, Barbara Morgan. Hopefully it will be an exciting and safe summer of launches for NASA and the international cadre of astronauts destined for the stars.

A BIG THANK YOU to Erica, Troy, and Dan for all your GREAT lessons shared via our NASA Digital Learning Network videoconferences! Hooray for virtual field trips and exciting learning for our students here in Oklahoma!

If you’re looking for some great videos about space and space exploration, we found several today on Space.com that are worth checking out.

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