Teachers' first day at Space Camp

This week, 33 middle school math and science teachers from the Baltimore area are in Huntsville, Ala., to participate in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program. They will be blogging about their experiences all week. Here are the reports from two teachers about their first day.

From Sabourah Abdunafi of ConneXions Community Leadership Academy in Baltimore:

The first day of camp was filled with excitement. We started with a wonderful breakfast. I met so many people from Maryland. That was one of the best feelings in the world: We always hear people speak of Maryland’s educational system being so low and we have over 30 teachers here. Every activity we had, the leaders would ask where you are from, and someone would say Maryland. I could hear a few people saying — here we go, or another one? We are really representing here!

The team-building activity was my favorite part of the day. This is something that we do in advisory at my school and it really works. We got into a circle and went around, saying our name, I’m going to space camp, and I’m bringing some item or person. Then each person would repeat until we got to the end of the circle saying each name and what they are bringing. At the end of the activity, I knew everyone’s name. At no time during the day did I have to say  what’s your name?

Then we did a second activity that I’ve also done with my advisory, where everyone is in a circle and each person grabs the hands of a person across the circle to make a human knot. We were doing well with this from the beginning. Everyone communicated and we were getting loose. Then a group member, Luis, had to let go because he was afraid he would throw out his back. I was worried about him because it happened to me once before. Another group member recommended that we start over and try again — and we did. It was nice to see that Luis didn’t want to quit. The second time I was stuck, tangled, under the group and Luis threw his back out. A few people let go and the remainder of the group continued. The activity was all about communication and teamwork and my group, DESTINY, is all about both.

We then toured the Davidson Center Museum. It was amazing. When you see rockets launch on TV or watch movies about space shuttle missions, you really have no idea the size of these machines. We were taking pictures and we couldn’t get the entire rocket into the photo from any angle. We learned about all of the women who have been in space, saw the patches that represent each space shuttle mission, discussed the issues with each of the missions and how they learned from them and improved for the next one. Thinking back as I write, it reminds me of all of the things that you do in a classroom to get your students thinking.

We were in and out of buildings, going from heat to A/C to heat again, then we went to lunch. The food was like school lunch — sandwiches, chips, salad, soda and water. Nothing to really write home about. But what came after lunch was the beginning of why we are here.

We had shuttle orientation. We learned some of the acronyms used in shuttle missions. I was so beat during this from the heat that I found myself nodding. I guess that’s what my students feel like after a morning of classes, lunch and recess. The difference I found was that regardless of how exhausted I was beginning to feel, I wouldn’t fall asleep because I knew that there was something I really wanted to learn. I may need to rethink the way I present my information sometimes when I return to school in the fall so no matter how tired my students are, they will find a way to see it through the lesson to the end and own their education.

We had a mission overview where we learned about the functions of personnel on the mission and applied for positions. Then we created a bottle rocket and launched it outside of the classroom. It is amazing what you can do with the basics from around the house. We broke into groups of three and four, and using a soda bottle, cardboard, tape, clay and water, we made bottle rockets. Simple yet amazing.

To end the day, we had a run-through of the discovery mission, going into space to repair a satellite. The walk-through was so difficult and confusing. Again, that’s how our students feel when they come into our classes. I was required to be in two places, learning two positions at once. Then during the mission I had to communicate between two groups of people, and monitor what was going on in both places for safety. It was scary to think that this is what people have done, then it was amazing to know that it has been done and I can do it too!  That is the feeling that I am excited to come home and instill in my students. No matter how difficult things are, you can do it if you set your mind to it.

My night ended with me hanging out with a few team members for about an hour and passing out with my clothes on. This is what learning is all about. It’s great to be a student again.

From Susan Allen of Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology in Baltimore County:

It is now the morning of the second day of Space Camp. I was supposed to blog last night after returning to the dorm and before going to sleep. I was absolutely unable to do that. Not only was a computer not available, but my brain was also not available.

Our first day started at 7:15 with a bus ride to the Rocket Center for breakfast. From that time until 9 p.m., we were busy with no downtime at all. After breakfast, we met our fellow team members. There are 18 of us on Team Inspiration. We come from several U.S. states (including Maryland, Texas and Florida) and several other countries (England, Romania, India and the Philippines). We range in age from the 20s to the 60s.

After breakfast, we did some team building and then went on a tour of the Davidson Center Museum. Let me tell you how excited everyone is, how connected we are already. We were going up a curved stairway when someone had the brilliant idea to have us line up along the railing and have our picture taken from the first floor. Everyone suddenly was putting their cameras on the floor near the designated photographer to have the picture on their own camera. Another team was passing by and they all helped to take our pictures so it did not take long for all of the cameras to be used and then it was our turn to take pictures of the other group lined up on the stairs. What a great group of people to just jump to help each other.

The museum was wonderful. We really could appreciate the size of the rockets that are needed to send a space capsule to the moon. When you see the rockets standing upright, you know that they are large. When they are lying on the side and you walk under them, you really know how enormous they are. We were given so much information; it was hard to digest all of it. I did take notes so I can refer to my notes later. Also, now I am hoping to have time to go to one of the gift shops so that I can buy a book or two. The information will mean so much more to me now that I have actually seen the rockets, etc. in person.

After the museum, we had lunch. Lunch is scheduled for 30 minutes. By the time we walked there, we had about 20 minutes before we had to leave to walk to our next activity.

We had our shuttle orientation, where we were introduced to many acronyms and saw a PowerPoint about shuttle missions. Then we were told about the positions that we could be assigned for our own mission and were asked to write down the positions that we would like to be assigned. Our counselors then assigned us our positions. There will be two missions that we will participate in. Everyone got their first choice for one of the missions. I was assigned my first choice for our first mission. I am the COMMANDER.

We then went to train for our mission. Astronauts train for several years. Teachers are so wonderful that we train for 90 minutes! (Today we will complete our mission.) As the commander I will have to prepare the spacecraft for liftoff and then land the craft. I got to practice the pre-takeoff procedures one and a half times and the landing about three times. I had much trouble landing the orbiter. We may crash upon landing today and they said that there are no do-overs for the “actual” mission.

After dinner, we worked on our team’s mission patch. Our team came up with no final decision and we were told that we had to meet as a team back at the dorm. We need a patch design by Wednesday evening. As we were waiting around for our turns at the Astronaut Simulations, some of us discussed our patch and one lady had a wonderful idea. I sent our team members over to her and everyone who heard her idea thought it was good. Maybe we won’t have to spend much time meeting.

Astronaut Simulations was absolutely great. The moon gravity walk was much fun. The machine that spins you around as though you were in a downspin was unbelievable. My husband was sure that I would not do that activity. He was wrong! It is indescribable. The simulations took a long time so we were late getting back to the dorm. I was totally exhausted.

Well, that was the first day at space camp. It is now 6:30 a.m.

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