Dustin Lenging, an eighth-grade math, science, writing, and robotics facilitator at Santa Clarita Valley International Charter School, has been named the 2022 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Airborne Astronomy Ambassador.
Alongside Castaic High School teacher Cody Kennedy, Lenging is set to fly along the stratosphere in the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) this year – a mission that should further fuel SCVi’s science program.
“Over its history, our NASA-funded AAA program has impacted tens of thousands of high school students through the immersive and inspiring experiences of their teachers,” said Bill Diamond, CEO of Search For Intelligent Life Institute (SETI). “The powerful STEM program will allow the SETI Institute to help bring NASA science into classrooms across the country.”
According to Matt Watson, SCVi Director of Maker Outreach, who is expected to play a role in completing research submitted by scientists from the world’s top universities, Lenging is a perfect fit for the job.
“(Lenging) has been with our organization for over a decade now and he is one of those teachers that families look forward to and kids remember throughout their school years and beyond,” Watson said. “He teaches eighth grade and talks with his students to understand what excites them and engages them all deeply.”
With SCVi’s current science program adhering to national science standards, Lenging plans to bring his knowledge of the stratosphere back to his classroom.
“In my curriculum now, we’re learning about infrared waves, really the whole electromagnetic spectrum, and this experience with infrared astronomy will provide more tools to bring back to kids,” Lenging said. “Science is about application and people study it throughout their lives about how infrared astronomy is changing our lives and the universe.”
See related: Castaic High Teacher to Become NASA Astronomy Ambassador
While Lenging and Kennedy have yet to know when the SOFIA experiment should take place, they are in the process of attending webinars and lectures in a Masters course in preparation for taking flight.
“It won’t just be a spectator experience,” Lenging said. “We will be conducting research alongside professional NASA scientists and that is why we need to gather as much knowledge as possible beforehand.”
The eighth-grade science teacher is highly regarded at SCVi for creating schoolwork that students plan to work on inside and outside of the classroom, and the SOFIA mission has become a project that Lenging himself even can hope.
“(Lenging) is developing these projects that kids are so excited about,” Watson said. “I’ve heard of kids working on science projects on weekends when they didn’t have homework and I’ve seen kids who have graduated working really hard in high school so they can get back on the job. campus and continue to work on their projects. I have seen it happen every year.
After the SOFIA mission is completed, NASA provides teachers with a physical science curriculum module created by the SETI Institute to share with their classes and students and past evaluations show that students whose teachers have participated in the program have shown increased STEM performance, according to SETI officials.
“I’m just excited about this opportunity,” Lenging said. “It will allow me to acquire knowledge and experience that I can bring back to class.”
To learn more about the AAA program, click on here.
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