- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2007

Bonnie Lacey of Mechanicsville, Md., recently helped put out a fire on a U.S. space station — at space camp, that is.

“I was the only one who had the solution to the problem,” Mrs. Lacey says. “From command central, I could say which buttons to push and how to get rid of the fire.”

Mrs. Lacey is one of three teachers from the D.C. region who recently participated in the 2007 Honeywell Educators Space Academy Program at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. The camp hosted 265 science and math teachers from 43 states and 21 countries.

John Lacombe, who teaches earth and space science to sixth-graders and life science to seventh-graders at Warren County Middle School in Front Royal, Va., also went to space camp, along with Geoff Mitchell, who teaches chemistry to students in eighth through 12th grades at Washington International School in Northwest.

During her time at camp, Mrs. Lacey participated in several astronaut simulations, such as moonwalking. She even survived a trial that mimicked a plane crashing into a lake. She will share her experiences with her seventh-grade math students at Esperanza Middle School in Lexington Park, Md, this fall.

“I would like kids to be excited when they come to class,” Mrs. Lacey says. “I would prefer them to be amazed that class is over already, instead of looking at the clock saying, ‘How much longer?’ ”

With the construction of the International Space Station, traveling to space is becoming more of a possibility for children, Mrs. Lacey says. Therefore, she believes her students will pay attention when she talks about traveling to Mars or the moon. She taught math to students in grades seven through nine last year at Oakcrest School in McLean.

“Kids are aware that the Earth is getting crowded,” Mrs. Lacey says. “They have no problem at all imagining living on another planet. I’m thinking it’s a long commute. I don’t think I’ll do that.”

During space camp, teachers participated in 50 hours of professional development, says Katrine Balch, director of education for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

Participants met many space figures, including six-times-in-space astronaut Story Musgrave, space camp founder Ed Buckbee and Homer Hickam, author of “Rocket Boys.” The teachers learned about space mission applications of math, science and technology in order to inspire their students to want to learn more about space, she says.

For instance, the teachers took workshops in space gardening, also known as hydroponics, or gardening without soil. They also learned about rocket construction that involves engine rockets and rockets made from soda bottles. During the activities, they made scale drawings to test for stability and accuracy and learned to manage a budget for supplies.

Generally, the workshops last for two hours and are meant to be done over time in the classroom, Ms. Balch says. It is hoped the teachers can incorporate the activities into their lesson plans.

“We want the kids to understand the problem-solving skills of engineers and scientists,” Ms. Balch says. “We want them to figure out what the problem is, design, test, redesign and rebuild. We follow the scientific method for all the activities.”

During space camp, the teachers also faced real-life engineering design challenges. For instance, they were presented with a problem similar to the difficulties NASA had with the thermal protection system on the space shuttle Columbia, she says. In February 2003, Columbia broke up over Texas during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

“Columbia had a breach in the shuttle tiles,” Ms. Balch says. “Our teachers do an activity to re-create the problem and see what solutions they have to make the shuttle tiles durable to withstand the heat.”

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