APPLE VALLEY SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY CENTER CONNECTS WITH THE UNIVERSE The Apple Valley Science and Technology Center (STC) sits in California's heart, along Route 15 running between LA and Las Vegas. Yet, in a very real sense, STC is not confined to one physical location. It stretches across the nation, due to the magic of Novell networks and the Internet. STC was conceptualized in 1985, when Rick Piercy had been with his school district for 3-4 years as a kindergarten teacher. "I was involved in the Young Astronauts program," he explains. "We were doing astronomy programs outside, kids were getting turned on, but it was simply freezing. What we needed was a place to get inside and stay warm." When Piercy began a fund drive to raise the necessary money, people began to pitch in. Kids ran jogathons and sold posters. Corporations offered funds and equipment. Community members donated money. Contractors volunteered their personal services. (STC's architect, for example, offered what amounted to $45,000 in material and labor.) Eventually, $1.2 million was raised to build an elementary campus, and a federal grant provided an additional $850,000. In 1990, STC held its official grand opening. Since that time, it has made national broadcasts, was chosen as a regional resource center by the FAA and as one of two sites for the Telescopes in Education (TIE) program, and has become the Instructional Technology Development Consortium (ITDC) training site for San Bernardino County. STC's success still surprises Piercy, who now acts as Director and Chief Operations Officer, overseeing the administration of STC and its new school, the Academy of Academic Excellence. "If anyone had ever told us we'd be where we are now, we wouldn't have believed it. It might have even been intimidating. STC just started out as a place for students to get out of the weather and observe the heavens. "More idealistically, though, we also wanted to give kids a chance to start young with science, so that it was never put down to them. Many kids get turned off by science -- they read books on science, they answer questions about science, but they never actually get to DO science. By the time they reach a lab, they've already developed a phobia of science. Our goal was to let kids enjoy hands-on science from the start, to show them how it applies to life. That's what really started everything moving. Although the program was originally conceived for just one school, it really took off." Jim Roller, Director of the Science and Technology Center, agrees. "Our whole concept has been hands-on science," he explains, "really getting down and doing science in the classroom. We're looking forward to the way that technology will allow us to affect many more people than could normally pass through here. We should be able to have tens, hundreds, thousands of kids through STC in a year, via technology and the Internet, and still be offering them hands-on science." The 8000-square-foot center now contains a full observatory, similar in quality to that of a major university, as well as a jet flight simulator. It offers all sorts of science and math programs for children, as well as outreach efforts. All of these opportunities are not wasted on the students. "We probably have the least amount of vandalism of schools in our valley," notes Piercy, "because STC is their place. They come from all over. Our charter school reaches out to home-schooled students all over southern California, but we have kids who come from as far away as San Diego and Los Angeles." Last year STC served 17,000 students. This year marked its first as a charter school, with 360 students, in addition to the normal thousands of visitors it receives every year. What makes the STC network run? NetWare 4.11, on a Compaq 4500, acting as the network's backbone. Although STC's Web server is currently based on Windows NT running on a Compaq 800, STC anticipates a shift to NetWare as soon as the 18-year-old Webmaster becomes more comfortable with Novell. "What's good about Novell on the 4500," says Roller, "is that it interacts with all the computers on site, as well as the computer that controls the telescope over at Goldstone. We just recently picked up BorderManager, which will help us to broadcast (i.e., present as read-only) the images from the telescope. While one group of students is logging in and controlling it from somewhere like Kansas, multitudes of other students can come across Netscape to our Web site and pick up what's going on." One year ago, STC took over operations of Goldstone's $12 million radio telescope -- a deep-space tracking antenna -- all 111 feet and 3 million pounds of it. The telescope is used as part of a WWW site for radio astronomy for K-12 education, in conjunction with NASA and JPL. Teachers are trained at STC, plan missions back at their schools, come through STC to carry out the mission, and gather information on their target. The data they receive becomes part of the scientific data used by NASA. In fact, with the recent study of Jupiter and the probe Galileo's surveillance, students will be cowriting articles with NASA to be published in such magazines as Sky & Telescope, Astronomy, and NASA's own publication. "Kids will finally see the real results of their experiment," says Roller, "with the contact of real scientists." Similarly, scientists for JPL are excited over being able to expose kids to new experiences. "We have students in Los Angeles or New York City who can't see stars at night due to pollution, yet have nearby equipment," explains Piercy. "Then we have students in the Arkansas back country who have no local resources but have clear skies. Networking technology allows us to overcome these things: Students in remote areas and students without clear skies can still explore space, all without leaving their classrooms. This isn't just a great experience, but also a very economical way to drive the education system in a new direction." Besides the telescope, some schools have been testing electronic microscopes. While scientists manipulate the equipment, students can view the images via Internet, make comments, and help guide what gets viewed. This combines the idea of remote-controlled scientific devices with the ability to share information directly and quickly with large groups nationwide. "We're going to see more opportunity for parents to interact with their children," adds Piercy, "as well as teachers interacting with large groups of students, themselves interacting with others. Technology can drive this unified effort." In fact, Piercy sees hands-on science as the ultimate social bonding experience. "Just as the government can't legislate or dictate morality, neither can it stop segregation or force reconciliation between groups. But technology can do that, as students from very diverse backgrounds collaborate and meet each other on common ground. I think that this is the way to bring cultural differences together -- that working on these projects will strengthen cultural ties among children more than many of the past programs we've seen. "There's a school in downtown Detroit -- 99% African-American -- in a ghetto area. It's a neat school to collaborate with. This school recently worked with two of our middle schools. The students here got a real taste for the lives of the kids in Detroit, and they got a feel for our lives. In the end, everyone found out that they had a lot more common ground than differences." Another object of interest -- STC's flight simulator -- is a T-40, with a full cockpit and up-down range of movement. Students begin learning how to fly in third grade, beginning with models and flying knowledge and moving on to computer simulation before the real event. Students have to learn language, history skills, geography, and how to calculate fuel consumption. There's quite a bit of math involved. All this adds up to a great tool, in Piercy's words: "It gets kids hands-on experience and practical application of science." The simulator's acquisition is mostly miraculous, although Piercy humorously attributes it to naivete on his part: "As a kindergarten teacher, I didn't think that people could turn you down. So one day, I just called up the Pentagon and asked them for a flight simulator. And look, we got one!" Recently, Piercy and Roller were talking to people in Washington and said, "Oh, we'd really like to get on the Hubble." Everyone laughed, but then one fellow said, "You know, that might not be out of the question." The moral here, it seems, is that you never lose anything by asking, and sometimes you get what you want. To helping incorporate hands-on learning in the classroom, STC is currently developing its own year-long classroom curriculum, to be centered around space and technology and driven from a CD-ROM. This curriculum will implement standard STC hands-on experiences and real data collection, such as getting on the Goldstone telescope. STC receives a lot of support from its Novell dealer, Goldmac, who is also helping them implement Novell BorderManager. "Our partnerships, such as with Novell and Compaq, are what makes this whole thing work," says Piercy. "We can talk all we want about our vision, but if you can't do it in real time, then it's still just a vision. We need people to help us network and link with the rest of the world so that we can do the things we do." Roller agrees wholeheartedly. "If that doesn't happen, we're limited to just our building. Although Apple donated some computers years ago, and although we had a local AppleTalk network, that didn't provide us with what we now need to have kids do science across the Internet. We need a system like Novell's to put all the pieces together -- to get all the machines to talk and get out to all the users. Having students with read-only access to the telescope, so that they can watch what another class is doing, is a tremendous thing that I wouldn't know how to accomplish without BorderManager. Novell has given us the ability to reach out to more students." While other similar student science programs do exist, STC isn't aware of any that allow the students real hands-on experience. Even with KidSat, which allows children to propose particular pictures to be taken by space shuttle crews, students can't do anything but wait for the data to come back. At STC, students collect their own data. Understandably, NASA and JLA have given their full support. "It's the real important link of putting instruments into the hands of the kids," says Roller. And the fact that universities must agree to partner with elementary or middle-school classes before using the telescope helps kids link with colleges, which provides some much-needed motivation to students who have no clue what they'd like to do as adults. "Instead of graduating and wondering, 'What in the world am I going to do?' these kids have already been in touch with universities, they've actually worked with students, scientists, and professors. They're now on their way." The list of organizations working with the STC seems endless. GTE supplies the phone lines. Allied Signal takes care of the equipment. JPL has 26 engineers working on a part-time basis with the STC and evaluates its new project propositions. NASA remains in close touch. And Novell provides the core network that runs the systems and makes long-distance remote-control possible, allowing kids to bond via hands-on science. "The technology is what allows this to happen," Roller finishes. "Without Novell letting us network all this stuff, we'd be dead in the water." The Apple Valley Science and Technology Center's Web site is located at www.avstc.org. ----------------------------------------------------- (C) 1997 by Fed Services, Inc. Electronic Government, Novell Education Market Issue. Material to be used solely in regards to examining my credentials for employment.