Is 12-year-old Shaleyna Harper our next great scientist? Will she be the creator of rocket engines that can carry us from one end of the galaxy to the other? Or is her classmate Yurri Mial, 11, the country's next great talk show host?
If that happens, both can say they got their start at Prince William County's summer enrichment camp, where mathematics, science and television converged yesterday afternoon. Shaleyna, Yurri and 21 other middle-school students are the student-stars of an episode of "NASA Connect," an interactive, 30-minute show sponsored by the NASA Langley Research Center. The show airs locally on public TV stations WETA (Channel 26) and WNVT (Channel 53).
Each episode focuses on a specific problem--in this case, measuring wind resistance of different solid objects using a student-made wind tunnel. The students were filmed describing their experiment, then separating into small groups and working together as professional scientists would.
The data they collect will be analyzed by students at Anne Beers Elementary School in Southeast Washington. The segments filmed at the two schools will be combined for the episode, scheduled to air at 10 a.m. Oct. 21.
Thomas E. Pinelli, educational technology and distance learning officer at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, said the shows are intended to capture the attention of elementary- and middle-school students.
"If kids don't get turned on to math and science by middle school, forget about it," Pinelli said. Math after middle school usually builds on skills mastered in younger grades, he said.
The show "also gives them the real world application," Pinelli said. It gets away from what he calls "cartoon science"--shows that depict crazy scientists trying to conquer the world.
About 35,000 teachers and 2.9 million students across the country use "NASA Connect" material, "and we're just tickled to death," Pinelli said. "NASA Connect" has a Web site: http://edu.larc.nasa.gov/connect/
The two-week camp, held this year at Saunders Middle School, is open to rising third- to eighth-graders. Camp coordinator Linda Wallace made contact with the "NASA Connect" administrators several weeks before the end of the school year to get educational material and was able to parlay that contact into an opportunity to get students on the show.
Nancy P. White, supervisor of mathematics for the county, said the wind tunnel experiment is just one way students can learn the importance of measurement, a mundane task that is a weakness for students across the country, according to national studies.
"They will be able to see the preciseness needed," White said.
In the wind tunnel experiment, for instance, some of the measurements are in millimeters. "They need to know that there are some instances where it needs to be exact or as close to that as possible," White said.
The wind tunnel project also will be incorporated into the lesson plans at Graham Park and Marsteller middle schools, the math and science speciality schools in the county, White said.
The students who were filmed put up with multiple takes and re-recording of their scripted material with enthusiasm.
"When I was talking, I was kind of nervous. When you got to use a script, it was easier," said Brittany Hall, 12, a student narrator entering eighth grade at Marsteller.
And away from the glare of the TV lights, they admitted their teachers made math fun for them.
"I'm not going to lie to you; it's not my best subject," said Yurri, who will enter the seventh grade at Lake Ridge Middle School this fall. The camp, though, "is not what I thought it would be like. They're extending math to a different level, so they're changing your opinion of math. They're really expanding your knowledge."
Shaleyna, who is also a rising seventh-grader at Lake Ridge, said, "At first, I didn't think it was going to be so fun because it's summer, you have to get up early in the morning and all that."
Now she thinks she will come back for the camp next summer.
"Math is going to be with you your whole life, with bills and things," Shaleyna said. "So you really need to learn it and get your skills down when you're young."
CAPTION: Yurri Mial goes to the chalkboard as Franklin Fitzgerald prepares to shoot an episode of "NASA Connect" at Saunders Middle School.
CAPTION: Student Kate Brown, 14, goes over her lines with producer William Benson at the Woodbridge school.