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Two Howard County teachers simulate work of astronauts at Huntsville program

For one week in June, two Howard County high school teachers got a taste of what it's like to be an astronaut.

Anne Steele, a math teacher at Reservoir High School, and James Pendred, a science teacher at Hammond High School, were two of more than 200 instructors chosen to spend five days at Honeywell Educators @ Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. There, they would work as teams to complete lunar and shuttle simulations, construction projects and activities that can be used in the classroom this year.

"We built a lunar base; we learned about rockets; we did two different challenges, a shuttle challenge and a lunar challenge," said Pendred. "Everything we did in the classroom, we could make that exact lesson plan for any class, tailored for age appropriateness."

When building the lunar base, there was a great deal of planning and math involved, he added.

"We had a budget sheet that let us decide what kind of materials to use, how much and what we could afford," he said. "The overall perspective is that it needs to work like a utopia. We needed a hospital, transportation, mining, and so on."

Steele said that she really enjoyed the team-building aspects of the activities they completed, particularly because groups were made up of teachers from across the globe.

"We talked to teachers from all around the country and from other countries," she said. "One was from the Philippines, one was from South Africa; it added a lot to the whole experience."

In the shuttle simulation, each member of the team was given a specific role to complete, "as though it were an actual shuttle mission," said Pendred. There was a pilot, a commander and researchers. Some people, assigned to mission control, were not in the same room with the others, which added to the illusion.

"I loved doing the simulation, it was like we were a real crew," said Steele. "We worked as a team, and we learned a lot about what the actual process would be like."

While some activities, like building a simple rocket or planning a community, could be replicated in the classroom, others such as the shuttle mission relied on a specialized environment and additional equipment. The simulation used real working parts, including many of the panels and switches that are actually in place at mission control. Pendred added that the staff trainers on hand made a big impact in providing an educational and immersive experience.

"We were nervous going through it, as if we were actually going to crash the shuttle," he said.

Early passion for science

Teachers selected for Space Academy went through an extensive application process toward the end of last year, and a review process that took several months. Pendred submitted his application after his department head, Cherilyn Brown, encouraged him to look into the program. Brown was selected to attend the space academy in 2008, and wanted other teachers to have some of those experiences as well.

Pendred also teaches physics, marine biology and astronomy, but Brown knew that he would be a good candidate because of his passion for earth and space science.

Pendred said his interest in space started in middle school in Pittsburgh.

"My eighth-grade class was so large for the district that they had to get high school teachers to take on the overflow of kids," he said.

Pendred was one of the students assigned to a high school teacher, and it was there that he got his first exposure to a planetarium and realized how interested he was in learning about space.

"I made a promise to myself that I would take that class [in high school] as soon as I possibly could," he said.

For Steele, family was a big part of why she was interested in space. Her mother and grandmother, both from Alabama, each went to space camp.

"I think growing up, a lot of people my age saw commercials for space camp," said Steele. "I was really excited that I'd get to fulfill this childhood dream of going [to space camp]. I always thought in the back of my mind that it would be cool."

Steele teaches geometry, trigonometry and pre-calculus, and said that she is still figuring out a plan to incorporate everything she learned during the program.

"I'm not quite sure how it's gonna work, a lot of the math that's used is well beyond what high-schoolers use," she said.

Now that she's been to space camp, Steele said, she has "a newfound appreciation for the space program. There are still things out there that can blow students away."

Aside from the lesson plans and invaluable experiences he gained from his time there, Pendred said that one of the best things he received was the flight suit given to him by Honeywell.

"I plan on wearing that the first day of classes and saying, 'Guess what I did this summer.' "

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