The sky was no limit for seven Mobile County Public Schools teachers who attended the Alabama Space Academy for Educators recently, and they came home with new ideas and renewed energy for teaching science in their classrooms.
Attending the camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville earlier this month were: Tamara Lewis, Samantha Miller and Jessica Allement O’Neal of Semmes Middle; Mindy Kirksey of Clark-Shaw; Nina Stiell of Robbins; Fay Phillips of Mary B. Austin; and Jonathan Horner of North Mobile.
The week-long immersive professional development program is designed to allow teachers to train like an astronaut while learning among their peers. It also allows them to access NASA and Space Camp lesson plans and experiments that can be adapted to their classrooms.
“Space Camp is awesome and every teacher needs an opportunity to experience it,” said Stiell. “The camp provided a multitude of resources that are aligned with several grade-level standards. The instructors also provided ways that each resource, along with its activity, can be altered to benefit the grade level you teach. Not only does this program teach rich Earth and space curriculum; it also teaches across the curriculum. The activities and resources can be used to teach various subjects.”
As an example, Stiell noted a beginning-level robotics activity that incorporated mathematical equations, measurements and data analysis through the use of a phone app. Stiell said she already has plans on how to incorporate such lessons into her classroom in Mobile County.
“I have already set up time and lessons that I will be Skype-teaching with another Space Camp graduate,” she said. “I also plan on transforming my classroom into a Mars Mission. I will be overlapping earth, space, life science curriculum with data analysis through the use of technology. The transformation will allow the students to see how living on Mars is possible in the near future.”
Other activities the teachers participated in included: building and launching rockets, creating and testing mock heat shields for the Space Shuttle, and experiencing 3 Gs and weightlessness. They also learned more about NASA and space exploration history and met astronaut Wendy Lawrence and Rocket Boys author Homer Hickam, Jr.
“Space Camp stimulated my mind, kept us on our toes from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., gave me new ideas on how to implement and hone already-learned STEM strategies with my students, and most importantly reminded me why I became not just a teacher, but a science teacher,” Lewis said. “This is the best PD our state has to offer, and every teacher in the state should participate in it in some form or another.”
“Teamwork and communication were the foundation of all we worked on,” Phillips added, “and all the activities, whether engineering and design or incorporating math and technology, can be adapted to any grade.”
Teachers from across the state are able to participate in the Alabama Space Academy for Educators free of charge thanks to funding from the Alabama Legislature.