At this year’s ISTE conference in Philadelphia, we proudly featured several of our partners in the Microsoft Education booth. These are organizations that share our mission of working to empower every student on the planet to achieve more. We’re highlighting some of those collaborations here.

There are more than a few proud space geeks here at Microsoft Education, and we wanted to do something special for students and teachers to commemorate the recent 50th anniversary of the first moon landing and the upcoming 20th anniversary of the first expedition on the International Space Station.

Fortunately, we found the perfect partner in NASA’s STEM on Station team.

We’ve worked with the space agency to create eight free lesson plans for middle and high school students that are now available for teachers. Each space-themed STEM lesson plan emphasizes project-based learning and encourages critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Students design in 3D, analyze data, build sensors, use virtual reality and more.

The new resources are part of our Hacking STEM lessons. Matthew Wallace, NASA Education Specialist, said it was those lessons that inspired NASA to partner with Microsoft. “We checked out the Hacking STEM lessons at last year’s ISTE conference in Chicago, and we were blown away and said yes to a partnership. This is a chance for us to innovate in our work and a chance for Microsoft to add a new theme related to space exploration to the Hacking STEM portfolio,” Wallace said.

A snapshot of the kind of learning involved includes:

  • A design challenge in which students try to solve a foot pain associated with microgravity seen in astronauts
  • A project in which students compare radiation exposure on Earth to astronauts’ levels of exposure
  • An opportunity to engage in predictive analytics and study climate change through photographs taken from space

Microsoft and NASA worked with teachers to write the standards-aligned lessons. “These are written by teachers, for teachers. When you have teachers authoring lesson plans like these, they’ve thought about how to bring these into the classroom effectively. They’ve thought about how to scaffold, how to offer extensions and how to address the wide range of student skills you see in the classroom,” said Karon Weber, who leads the Hacking STEM program.

The lessons integrate many Microsoft tools for education. These include Excel Data Streamer, a Microsoft Excel add-in that provides students with a simple way to bring data from the physical world into and out of Excel.

In some of the lessons, such as the exploration of radiation levels, students use Microsoft Power BI to better visualize and share data through interactive dashboards.

Students also engage in data science through a Microsoft Azure for Education machine-learning activity that involves analyzing the photos from space and making predictions about climate change.

And there is a Minecraft: Education Edition challenge in which students are asked to design a new module for the International Space Station. The lessons also call for using Flipgrid and PowerPoint, among other resources, to deepen student learning and engagement.

Wallace observed students in Seattle trying the lessons before their official rollout this year. “What I saw was every student had a role. They were all involved in the decision-making, and they were all very excited about the work,” he said. “Watching them also reinforced that it’s such a comprehensive style of learning. You see students engaging in every branch of STEM learning.”

For more on the NASA lesson plans, please check out the video from ISTE above and download the lesson plans here. You can also learn more by checking out our October 15 #MSFTEduChat TweetMeet on STEM and NASA.