Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Mission: Exploring Our Nearest Neighbor
The award-winning Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) Program shares the excitement of the science of the LRO mission, and lunar science as a whole, with educators, students, and the general public. The educators and scientists of the E/PO team bring LRO’s groundbreaking discoveries to teachers and informal educators across the country – and through them, those they serve – and engage the public worldwide in appreciating and studying Earth’s nearest neighbor. To date, LRO has engaged more than 700,000 members of the public and over 300 educators.
More about the LRO programs can be found at:
Science Mission: NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is a robotic mission that is gathering high-resolution data about the lunar surface and surrounding environment. LRO has been orbiting the Moon since 2009. After a year of exploration, LRO’s initial mission to map the Moon’s surface was extended with a unique set of science objectives. LRO’s groundbreaking discoveries are helping to create a new picture of the Moon as a dynamic and complex body — and advancing our ways of thinking about processes throughout the solar system.
Education and Outreach Mission and Approach:
Five distinct projects comprise the LRO EPO Program portfolio. Note that due to funding cuts, as of 2015, the LRO Education Team is focusing on two main projects: the Lunar Workshops for Educators for middle school science teachers and International Observe the Moon Night. The 2014 LRO EPO evaluation report is attached.
- Two of the projects (the Middle School Educators Professional Development – MSEPD – and Professional Development for Informal Educators – PIE) target educators. The MSEPD and PIE projects bring lunar and LRO science to educators via ongoing professional development trainings.
- The Lunar Student Imaging Project (LSIP) reaches K-12 students. LSIP enables students to participate in the process of science by analyzing authentic LRO data.
- Finally, International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) and MoonMappers reach citizen scientists and the general public. InOMN brings lunar and LRO science to amateur astronomers and the general public in an annual, worldwide public outreach event. MoonMappers is a participatory experience through which citizen scientists analyze authentic LRO data.
- The LRO EPO team also maintains the social media efforts for the mission.
Through these projects, the LRO EPO Program achieves its goals to:
- Increase lunar literacy among the general population;
- Provide our audiences with access to LRO data and science results;
- Inspire people to learn more about the Moon and provide connections to the opportunities to do so; and
- Develop critical thinking skills that can be applied to understanding the Moon.
Objectives for the LRO EPO Program goals are project specific. For example, an objective for the Middle School Educator Professional Development for goal #1 is: “As a result of their professional development, middle school teachers will gain an understanding of their own and their students’ understandings and misconceptions about topics related to lunar science.” Tailoring objectives, assessment tools, and measures of success for each of the projects ensures that the impact of each project can be explicitly measured.
The LRO EPO Program used research based best practices as well as evidence-based approaches in the design phase of each project. Research on effective educator professional development was used when educator professional development projects for informal and formal educators were designed. Lessons learned from International Year of Astronomy of 2009 were incorporated into the strategy for supporting InOMN. The Lunar Student Imaging Project used data collected over the course of a decade from the sister program Mars Student Imaging Project in the design and implementation. MoonMappers builds upon lessons learned from the MoonZoo project and goes beyond the typical point and click methodologies of crater counting to provide citizen scientists with a virtual learning community. Details of the projects are described below.
Middle School Educator Professional Development (MSEPD)
The Middle School Educator Professional Development (MSEPD) project leverages existing relationships between LRO EPO Team members and local school systems to provide sustained professional development for grade 6-8 science teachers. The trainings are based on the Lunar Workshop for Educators (LWE) model. The LWEs were a series of week-long professional development workshops designed to educate and inspire grade 6–12 science teachers conducted 2010-2012. Evaluation for the 2012 LWE is provided in the attached documents. During the MSEPD program, participants learn about lunar science and exploration, gain tools to help address common student misconceptions about the Moon, find out about the latest research results from LRO scientists, work with data from LRO and other lunar missions. Teachers also learn how to bring LRO data to their students using hands-on activities aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards and AAAS Benchmarks. The MSEPD project is based on best practices outlined in pedagogical research of science education, and facilitators model instructional best practices throughout the trainings. The teacher trainings take place in the summer, and the LRO EPO team follows up with the participants throughout the following school year to keep participants informed of new science results and activities, answer questions, provide opportunities for participant discussions, and monitor progress as participants incorporate workshop information and materials into their classrooms.
Lunar Workshops for Educators were conducted at 12 sites from 2010-2012, including Utica, MS (above left), Phoenix, AZ (above right), and Twin Falls, ID (below).
Professional Development for Informal Educators (PIE)
Informal educators are targeted with the LRO Professional Development for Informal Educators (PIE) project. Several of the LRO EPO team members have long standing partnerships with networks of informal educators. Using the LRO Educator Kit as a starting point (see nasawavelength.org for materials), the LRO EPO team has modified these classroom based lessons using recommendations provided by the National Girls’ Collaborative Project for engaging girls in STEM for use in informal education settings. The informal education materials have been tested in an afterschool program between EPO partner Adler Planetarium and the Chicago Public School system. The LRO EPO team is currently making changes to the informal education materials based on recommendations from field-testing. Beginning in the fall of 2013, materials created under the PIE program will be used in professional development for afterschool providers.
Comparative Planetology module for Science On a Sphere (SOS)
Utilizing the wealth of data returned by LRO, the E/PO team has developed a module for Science On a Sphere that examines volcanoes and impacts on rocky bodies throughout the solar system, including our Moon. The Comparative Planetology module includes science background content, recommended pre-post hands on activities, an educator script and a playlist.
Lunar Student Imaging Program (LSIP)
Partnering with the Mars Education Program at Arizona State University (ASU), the LROC EPO team has developed the Lunar Student Imaging Program (LSIP) for grades 5-12. LSIP uses the latest remote sensing data from LROC and other LRO instruments to involve students in authentic lunar exploration. Using an inquiry-based, project based learning approach; students develop and direct their own research project with guidance from ASU educators. The program is conducted via distance learning, helping to engage students from around the country.
Moon Mappers is a citizen science project that uses LRO NAC images to map lunar surface features, and to refine the results of crater finding algorithms. Its initial two science tasks are: Simply craters, which has users marking craters down to 18pix in diameter and flagging images that contain scientifically interesting features; and Man vs. Machine, which has users verifying (and where needed, correcting!) the output of a variety of crater finding algorithms. Together, these projects allow developers to classify how well different crater finding algorithms work in different scenarios (lighting, albedo, etc.), and to compare these results to those of everyday humans. Beyond these two tasks, Moon Mappers will be adding tasks to mark linear features, identify individual boulders (and where present their trails), and to map other unusual features identified in the first two tasks. MoonMappers is part of the CosmoQuest community, which provides a virtual learning environment for the citizen science community.
International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN)
International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) is an annual public outreach event that is designed to engage the public in a conversation about the Moon and to inspire them to want to learn more about our nearest neighbor. InOMN began as a grass roots movement in late 2009. In early 2010, word spread through our partners, and InOMN quickly expanded to include international audiences. The types of activities that occur at InOMN events vary greatly and are dependent upon individual hosts and the resources at their disposal. Hosts are not expected to put on big affairs; the style and scope of the event is at the sole discretion of the host. InOMN enables hosts to design events that meet the needs of their local audiences. So while the world steps out their front door on the same day to all observe the Moon, they are able to do so in a culturally and geographically appropriate context. Events held in rural environments look completely different than those held in an urban center. NASA InOMN events typically include talks by lunar researchers, hands on activities that demonstrate lunar science concepts, tables where scientists and engineers can engage in conversations with the public about their work, visualizations using the latest in lunar data, and of course in partnership with local amateur astronomy clubs, moon observing. InOMN attendees at NASA locations are also provided with information about where they can learn more about how NASA is studying the Moon.
On September, 22 2012, 577 International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) events were held in 46 US States and 49 countries. Above, visitors at Goddard Space Flight Center tour the LRO Mission Operations Center. Below, visitors view the Moon through telescopes at an InOMN event in Indonesia. In honor of the late Neil Armstrong, visitors were encouraged to “wink at the Moon.”
In addition to the above projects, the LRO EPO team has developed, installed, and maintains exhibits at Adler Planetarium (Chicago, IL), McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center (Concord, NH), and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, MD). These exhibits feature the science and data from the LRO mission.
The LRO EPO Team brings strong expertise in informal education, K-12 teaching experience, and higher education teaching experience to the portfolio of E/PO projects. The E/PO professionals on the team also have backgrounds in Earth and planetary science, complementing the science team members who actively participate in LRO E/PO. Together with the E/PO professionals, the LRO scientists review LRO E/PO content, create educational activities and resources, interpret mission findings to share in educational resources and with the public, and interact with the public through presentations and electronic media efforts.
The LRO E/PO Program has a long history of leveraging partnerships to deliver LRO and lunar content. Partnerships internal to NASA include the NASA Lunar Science Institute, Lunar Quest Office, and LCROSS missions as co-coordinators for International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN). The InOMN partners work collaboratively to disseminate information about InOMN and lunar science results to their networks and through their own InOMN events.
Each of the external partners is or has been responsible for implementing one of the projects in the LRO EPO portfolio. External partners for the LRO EPO Program include:
- The Adler Planetarium: works with teachers within the Chicago Public School system to implement an element of the Professional Development for Informal Educators (PIE) project.
- Arizona State University: works with students to implement Lunar Student Imaging Project.
- Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory: works with members of the LRO EPO core team to implement Middle School Educator Professional Development and PIE in the Washington, D.C. metro area, as well as the "Space Academy: Mysteries of the Unknown Moon" and their Student Planetary Investigators program.
- Southern Illinois University Edwardsville: provides oversight for MoonMappers.
- University of California Los Angeles: implements elements of MSEPD in the greater Los Angeles area.
- University of New Hampshire: partnered with the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center to incorporate LRO data and science results into a new museum exhibit, “Lunar Recon: Spacecraft, Craters, and Cosmic Rays,” as well as conducting their own elements of the MSEPD project.
Evaluation is underway for the current EPO program. The evaluation plan, conducted by an external evaluator, will include three major components: a front end evaluation will be used to assess the ongoing needs of participant educators and learners and formative and summative evaluation will be conducted on the major components of the Educators’ and Learners’ components of the LRO EPO program. The front-end evaluation will help refine LRO EPO program components to best meet the needs of educators and learners. Formative evaluation will be used to help designers; implementers and facilitators make real time adjustments to programs during planning and implementation. Summative evaluation will be used to assess program impacts, lessons learned, and make programmatic adjustments for future years.
Each of the three major components will be evaluated in the context of the four LRO EPO goals, when applicable: 1) Increase lunar literacy among the general population, 2) Provide our audiences with access to LRO data and science results, 3) Inspire people to learn more about the Moon and provide connections to the opportunities to do so, and 4) Develop critical thinking skills that can be applied to understanding the Moon.
Front End Evaluation
The front-end evaluation will include the development/compilation of a literature review including formal and informal educator professional development, lunar misconceptions, the use of authentic data in K-12 classrooms, and assessment of large informal/free choice science events for the public. Additionally, surveys of educators will be used to characterize the needs, barriers, and practices of formal and informal educators to help plan for the development/revision of professional development programs. Lastly, assessment results from the 2012 InOMN evaluation will be used to help refine the program implementation and evaluation of the program for future years.
Participants at Middle School Educator Professional Development workshops in Greenbelt, MD; Houston, TX, and Concord, NH were surveyed for the formal educators portion of the evaluation.
During each in-person professional development workshop, daily surveys will be used to assess the overall effectiveness of the workshop and to inform the facilitators of immediate needs/changes that can be implemented while the workshop is ongoing. These daily surveys will be used to assess the effectiveness of the workshop implementation as well as the level of content and pedagogy the participants are gaining based on the goals of the workshop designers. At the end of online trainings, participants will be asked to complete short online surveys to gauge the effectiveness of the trainings in relation to the program goals.
For each in-person professional development workshop, outcomes related to content and pedagogy will be assessed using a combination of pre/post surveys, follow-up surveys and follow-up interviews of selected participants. Each teacher workshop participant will be assessed for changes in their content knowledge related to their understanding and ability to address students’ lunar misconceptions, their understanding of the Moon as a dynamic, changing body in the solar system, their ability, intention, success in using LRO data in their classroom, and the ways they identify and use to keep up to date on LRO science. Additionally teachers will be surveyed during the school year after the workshop to assess their use of appropriate activities in the classroom, the use of LRO data and science in the classroom, and implementation of any experiences involving age appropriate scientific practices for students related to the moon.
Participants at Professional Development for Informal Educators workshops in Greenbelt, MD and Chicago, IL were surveyed for the informal educators portion of the evaluation.
At the conclusion of each in-person professional development workshop (1-2 days), a post survey will be used to assess the overall effectiveness of the workshop and to inform the facilitators of immediate follow-up needs that can be implemented to improve follow-up support for afterschool providers. These post surveys will be used to assess the effectiveness of the workshop implementation as well as the level of content and pedagogy the participants are gaining based on the goals of the workshop designers. At the end of online trainings (when applicable), participants will be asked to complete short online surveys to gauge the effectiveness of the trainings in relation to the program goals.
For each professional development workshop series (in-person and follow-up), outcomes related to content and pedagogy/implementation will be assessed using a combination of pre/post surveys, follow-up surveys and follow-up interviews of selected participants. Each afterschool provider workshop participant will be assessed for changes in their content knowledge related to their understanding and ability to address students’ lunar misconceptions, their understanding of the Moon as a dynamic, changing body in the solar system, and their awareness and understanding of LRO discoveries. In addition, to the extent possible, changes in afterschool participants’ (students’) knowledge and awareness of the moon will be evaluated through tools developed through the curriculum/kits provided to the afterschool providers.
“Everything I learned about LRO was added to my physics lessons so I could discuss real life uses for science and use real problems rather than text book problems whenever possible. I want to bring science to life and give the students concrete examples where their knowledge applies.” – Lunar Workshop for Educators participant
International Observe the Moon Night
Outcomes from previous years’ evaluation reports will be used to revise instruments to assess the overall impact of InOMN events. InOMN evaluation will include assessment of the quality and usefulness of resources for hosts, the attendance at InOMN events, and the impact of events on visitors’ awareness of lunar science and interest in learning more about current lunar discoveries. Successful program outcomes will include members of the public who attend InOMN events will indicate their interest in lunar science and exploration, desire to learn more about the Moon, take away information about the Moon and opportunities for continued involvement, and understand where to go to explore further.
While evaluation is currently underway, the following initial metrics for FY2012 efforts are available:
Number of K-12 Teachers, Direct Interactions, FY12 (From OEPM):
- Middle School Educator Professional Development (MSEPD) project: 77
- Lunar Student Imaging Project: 23
- Space Academy: 5
- Student Planetary Investigators: 1
Number of K-12 Students, Direct Interactions, FY12 (From OEPM):
- Student Planetary Investigators: 95
Number of Informal Educators, Direct Interactions, FY12 (From OEPM):
- Comparative Planetology module for Science On a Sphere (SOS): 6
Effectiveness and Impact:
The LRO Twitter account (@LRO_NASA) was one of the first mission-based Twitter accounts and is sixth in the most followed NASA missions, with over 113,000 followers.
Surveys collected during the Middle School Educator Professional Development project indicated that the goals of the teachers align well with facilitator goals for the trainings. Teachers reported gaining knowledge about lunar science and exploration as well as access to resources and new ways to teach these topics.
Locations of 2012 International Observe the Moon Night events.
The first International Observe the Moon Night was held in 2010, and since then, more than 1,600 events have been held across the United States and around the world and reached an estimated 700,000 people. Attendees at the International Observe the Moon Night reported on surveys that, as a result of their participation in the event, they were very likely to attend another Moon related event. Attendees also reported that they were highly likely to seek out additional NASA resources about the Moon as a result of their experiences at the event. The data indicate that InOMN is an extremely effective way to reach national and global audiences with the latest in NASA lunar research.
Awards and Special Recognition
The LRO EPO team’s work has earned them the NASA Robert H. Goddard (RHG) Exceptional Achievement Award in the outreach category in 2011 and 2013, as well as the NASA Group Achievement Award in 2010.