PITTSBURG -- LaMar Camel raised his hand again and again, full of questions posed to a team of NASA scientists and educators who led a workshop Tuesday on space exploration.
"I want to know what's in the universe," said Camel, a 14-year-old Pittsburg resident who attends the Pittsburg location of Contra Costa County's Golden Gate Community School, an alternative school for students who were expelled from other schools.
Most of the school's 45 students used to attend Pittsburg High. The goal of community schools is to get students back on track so that they can eventually return to their regular schools.
During the four-hour workshop held in the City Council Chambers at the Pittsburg Civic Center, one of the hands-on exercises had students carefully inspecting tiny pieces of debris.
"These all came from a certain place," said David Delgado, an educator with the Imagine Mars Project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena as packets of debris were placed on tables. "It's your job as a scientist to play detective."
Alas, no rocks from the moon or Mars were in the debris piles that made up the "mystery planet" exercise. The purpose of the exercise, in which students made observations of fragments of bricks, shells, pebbles and glass from planet Earth, was to encourage them to think like scientists.
Delgado said NASA scientists and educators give workshops at schools to get students interested in science, technology, math and engineering and to help them develop problem-solving skills to better manage everyday situations.
Other workshop activities included an exercise that put the enormous odds of finding life on another planet into perspective. Students also heard from Michael Meyer, who is involved in the Mars rover Curiosity expedition and is the lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program.
Tuesday's workshop is part of the school's astrobiology curriculum that was developed by teacher Douglas Corbin. The Pittsburg school is one of the only alternative schools in the country that has an astrobiology curriculum, he said.
"We just piloted the new curriculum this year," said Corbin, who described the class as a "motivating tool to get students re-engaged in schools. It's also about career options within science, engineering and technology."
Camel isn't sure if he wants to become a scientist. But he does likes science. "It's cool," he said.
Tamiya Rudolph 14, of Pittsburg, has always had an interest in space and science.
"I like to learn new things about the planets and Earth and see where we came from and see if there is other life," she said. "I like science because you get to learn something new every day."
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.