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White Plains Man Receives NASA Award

MAMARONECK, N.Y. - White Plains resident Lawrence Perretto wants to show his Mamaroneck students at Hommocks Middle School that science and engineering can be fun, and NASA is going to help him do it.

Perretto, who has taught sixth-grade science at Hommocks for 13 years, is one of 50 recipients of the NASA Distinguished Science Teaching Fellowship Award. The $15,000 award will pay for five courses at Columbia University to study what is known as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

"It's a new acronym in science education that describes the combination of teaching science in the context of technology, engineering and then bringing in math," said Perretto, who has incorporated STEM projects since taking over Hommocks’ technology program in 2001. "It's a very hot area now in science education because American students are doing so poorly internationally in science and engineering."

The courses, which are all online and began Jan. 11, are designed by NASA and administered by Columbia University.

"It's amazing that they let us learn science in the context of the cutting edge tools and technology that are actually being used by NASA today," Perretto said.

The 13-year sixth grade science teacher has been incorporating technology into his classes to demonstrate the principles of science for the past decade. This past October,  Perretto invited members of the Center for Children and Technology to his class, where they introduced students to a Nintendo video game that reinforces concepts of genetics.

"You have to see these students go wild when they're sitting in class playing video games to reinforce genetic concepts," he said.

This March students will be using video games that reinforce electrical concepts, which are a big part of the sixth grade curriculum.

"This kind of stuff excites kids," Perretto said. "It makes engineering, technology and science reachable for them. And it's through this process, the deep immersion of this process, that we believe inspires students to think that engineering is a tangible subject to pursue."

Perretto will take online courses for the next 12 to 18 months through Columbia University to further study the STEM teaching method. Perretto began using it in 2001,  when he took over and modernized the technology course to incorporate science through projects like creating bottle rockets.

"Mr. Perretto is always looking ahead to the next adventure to apply his considerable talents and resourcefulness, and to find new ways to engage his students in science,” said Seth Weitzman, principal of Hommocks Middle School.

Fellows, of which five come from New York, will be expected to become leaders in STEM education in their schools, districts and beyond.

"I'm actually going to be able to use this fellowship to redesign the sixth grade science curriculum and to make it more engineering and more STEM-like," Perretto said.

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