You're never too old -- or too much the expert -- to learn, Maryland teachers studying how to excite students about aviation were told by a space shuttle astronaut.
The trick, he said, is to remain excited about the prospect of learning -- a trick as applicable to scientists as to elementary school-aged children.
Col. Frederick D. Gregory told 150 teachers gathered at Baltimore-Washington International Airport Saturday that he was surprised some of the best scientists in the world were excited by the results of experiments conducted in the weightless environment. Some were even shocked.
"It was this excitement about learning that kept me going," Colonel Gregory said. "Whether in an orbiter or on the ground, it was unique to be with a crew who would come back and write the things that we would be reading about in the encyclopedia next year."
For example, one scientist studying liquids had dumped a glass of soft drink in the shuttle. In outer space, the drink floats in a glob -- and the scientist was changing the glob's shape using different sound waves.
At one point, the glob turned into a sphere, an unexpected result. "I could see he was confused by this," Colonel Gregory said. "He said, 'You know, it wasn't supposed to make that transition. I'll have to change my whole approach to this and change my equations.' "
Teachers said they learned a lot at the daylong seminar, the second annual "Take it to the Top" aviation workshop.
They made functional hot-air balloons out of paper and learned about the Hubble space telescope and what it was like to live and work outside Earth's atmosphere.
"I'm impressed," said Chuck Gerhold, a teacher at Winfield Elementary School in Carroll County. "Until you get here, you don't realize what's out there. Things I learned today will be used, and fast."
One example, he said, was the hot-air balloons. It is just the hands-on project that piques students' interest.
"You have to get the kids excited about learning," Mr. Gerhold said. "Whether they can make a balloon that works or not isn't as important as instilling the idea that they can do something."
Colonel Gregory, associate administrator of the Office of Safety and Mission Quality for NASA, echoed those sentiments while walking the group through his last mission and recounting how space travel taught him about global unity.
"Every time I would fly over Washington, I would try to get everyone to look at my hometown," said Colonel Gregory. "Nobody was interested."
While crew members started the mission caring only about their own hometowns, he said, by the end of the mission, "none of us would leave the window, because we were all looking down at our hometown -- the world."
That experience, Colonel Gregory said, shows how knowledge can meld cultures.
The workshop was sponsored by the state Department of Transportation and the Aviation Administration, in cooperation with the state Department of Education, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Civil Air Patrol and the Air Force.