The Lassen Astrobiology Intern Program - Concept, Implementation and Evaluation
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
The program goal was to provide a hands-on astrobiology learning experience to high school students by introducing astrobiology and providing opportunities to conduct field and lab research with NASA scientists. The program sought to increase interest in interdisciplinary science, technology, engineering, math and related careers. Lassen Volcanic National Park (LVNP), Red Bluff High School and the Ames Team of the NASA Astrobiology Institute led the program. LVNP was selected because it shares aspects of volcanism with Mars and it hosts thermal springs with microbial mat communities. Students documented volcanic deposits, springs and microbial mats. They analyzed waters and sampled rocks, water and microorganisms. They cultured microorganisms and studied chemical reactions between rocks and simulated spring waters. Each student prepared a report to present data and discuss relationships between volcanic rocks and gases, spring waters and microbial mats. At a “graduation” event the students presented their findings to the Red Bluff community. They visited Ames Research Center to tour the facilities and learn about science and technology careers. To evaluate program impact, surveys were given to students after lectures, labs, fieldwork and discussions with Ames scientists. Students’ work was scored using rubrics (labs, progress reports, final report, presentation). Students took pre/post tests on core astrobiology concepts. Parents, teachers, rangers, Ames staff and students completed end-of-year surveys on program impact. Several outcomes were documented. Students had a unique and highly valued learning experience with NASA scientists. They understood what scientists do through authentic scientific work, and what scientists are like as individuals. Students became knowledgeable about astrobiology and how it can be pursued in the lab and in the field. The students’ interest increased markedly in astrobiology, interdisciplinary studies and science generally.