Space Academy Launches Partnership With School in Spain

Artur Chmielewski
Artur Chmielewski

Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been running its Space Academy for five years, but starting this year the program will be coordinated with a school in La Cañada Flintridge’s sister city, SEK International School in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.
The communities are sister cities because they share similarities beyond the name. The European Space Astronomy Center is located in Villanueva de La Cañada, just as JPL is located here, prompting the two cities to coordinate on a science program.
“We want the students to not only build rockets but also be better problem solvers, learn how to use teammates’ talents and learn different styles of communication with peers, bosses and media,” said Artur Chmielewski, director of JPL’s Space Academy.
In California, students from La Cañada High School and other high schools will meet on Fridays from 3:30-5:30 p.m. to work in groups of three or four toward finishing a model spacecraft and rocket launcher. They’ll work for 10 weeks beginning Sept. 14.
The program is limited to about 30 students to ensure that everyone receives individualized attention. Academy students are mostly high school juniors or others who’ve taken high school-level physics.
In Spain, the program’s size and age group will be similar. Students there will be working toward building model spacecraft and launchers as well.
Both programs will begin with phase one: learning. Although students should come in with some understanding of physics, LCHS physics teacher Nate Fulmer and Chmielewski will spend time teaching the students physics and math equations and concepts applicable to their projects.
Phase two includes designing spacecraft and launchers, and students will have weekly phone calls and Skype calls to speak to the sister city’s students about their projects. This will be done in both Spanish and English. The purpose is to share discoveries and information regarding their project and also to learn about one another’s culture. Marian Price, who teaches Spanish at LCHS, will assist with these communications.
“High school in Spain is different than in California, so we are trying to understand and learn about each other through this project,” said Chmielewski. “The scientific review system is very different in America and Europe, but both are producing equal results. The American review is very confrontational. Scientific review boards ask you the hardest questions and worst-case scenarios, but the European reviews are very polite and more prepared for. It is important to understand how other cultures are doing things.”
In phase three of the program, each group presents its projects.
“The program also teaches students about starting a business,” Chmielewski said.
Students must present their designs to the group, which then considers whether this “startup” is worth investing in. If it believes the students have done their research and have a solid pitch, it buys “stock” in the company, but if the student audience does not want to invest, the presenting group must do additional work on its designs to get the “funding” to start developing the product.
Once students in both La Cañadas have acquired the information necessary to build their product, and designed and presented it, they will move on to building and testing it. After students here have tested and measured their rocket launchers, they will send them to Spain for students to test, and students there will send their products to California.
The final phase of the program is graduation, at which students in each country will present their products to their parents in the style of a news conference — students will introduce their product to the market and the parents will ask questions as reporters would.
“The idea of the Space Academy is that kids these days are getting A’s on tests, they can figure out the homework problems and memorize the test, but it is still hard for them to relate this to real life. The academy gives students the chance to see what they want to do in life because it’s not just about science, it’s also about business and media and communication and self-awareness,” Chmielewski said.
He hopes that the winners of each program, the students who launched their rockets the farthest, will get to go visit their sister city, demonstrate their space launcher and get to experience the culture.
“This partnership will open up many educational and entrepreneurial opportunities for students in our community and abroad,” said Victoria Schwartz, president of the LCF Sister Cities Association. “Having toured SEK International School, I know they are the perfect school to partner with on such an important project.” For more information visit facebook.com/jplspaceacademy/.

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