Happy Summer Solstice

Today, June 21, is the first day of summer and also is designated “National Summer Learning Day.”  

I’m sure the words “summer” and “learning” elicit groans from many students, but past experience has shown that if the content is interesting and the approach is hands on and dynamic, then summer learning can not only be a very rewarding experience, it can also open doors to many new opportunities.

In November 2009, President Obama announced a national campaign called Educate to Innovate focused on increasing the scientific and technical literacy of our student population in order to ensure that the U.S. will have the scientists, engineers and technology-savvy workforce needed for our nation to remain competitive in the future.  NASA’s Office of Education responded to this challenge with a three-year pilot program called Summer of Innovation (SOI) to engage middle school students in compelling science and engineering learning experiences during the school break.  

As NASA begins SOI’s second year, I am excited about what we are able to offer this summer to stimulate learning outside of the traditional classroom setting. We have more than 300 planned collaborations across the country to engage students and teachers in exciting NASA-themed content and experiences this summer.  
As I speak with educators and experts across the country, the huge potential for summer learning is often central to the conversation.  Many students fall victim to “summer slide,” or a loss of academic skills over the summer months. It costs both teachers and students precious time during the beginning of every school year, as they are forced to re-teach and re-learn content that has already been covered instead of moving on to new challenges. 

One important goal of SOI is to keep students interested and engaged by combining learning with inspiration and a sense of fun — but it goes deeper than that.  Just as important as addressing the “summer slide”, is presenting students with an opportunity to explore content in depth and begin to build a real passion for a topic.  

I witness regularly NASA’s incredible ability to excite and inspire students through its missions and programs of exploration and discovery.  I believe that summer learning is the perfect opportunity to target our unique assets to begin inspiring and motivating tomorrow’s astronauts, engineers and rocket scientists. I recently saw a statistic that 75% of all Nobel Prize winners attribute their interest in science to an experience that occurred outside of the classroom.  
This year, NASA’s Summer of Innovation website (www.nasa.gov/soi <https://www.nasa.gov/soi>) has hundreds of hours of lessons, challenges, and content for summer program providers, parents or the public to share with students during the summer months. Exciting and interesting activities that deal with how we live and work in space, our exploration pursuits of Mars and other planets, emerging robotics technology and principles of rocketry are available for use. Today, on this first day of summer 2011, I encourage you to take a few moments to check it out and share the excitement of NASA’s mission. The experience that you help create for a student or your child this summer could be the beginning of their incredible journey as a future explorer.  

Please join us in this noble effort as we encourage our young people to dream big and reach higher.