- 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.”

Space camp is most known for the realistic mock space shuttle missions, she says. The teachers, who wear flight suits, participate in two space shuttle missions where they are able to experience what it is like to be in space on a mission or at mission control.

“Each mission is two hours in length,” Ms. Balch. “We have a pilot and commander, people who do space walks, folks doing experiments, people in mission control who are constantly working out problems that come up. We show them food that the astronauts eat, how much the astronauts exercise, and how to go to the bathroom in space.”

Overall, Ms. Balch hopes the knowledge that the teachers learn inspires the students. The students are the future of space travel, she says. The teachers discussed the resources available on Mars, why it is important to travel there and what habitats would look like.

“It’s a really unique program,” Ms. Balch says. “It incorporates personal development and professional development. They meet teachers from all over the world. It’s an experience of a lifetime.”

When applying for the program, teachers had to fill out an application and answer two essay questions concerning the obstacles they face in teaching math and science education and how a teacher can help train students for the global marketplace, says Valerie Sorge, project manager for Honeywell Hometown Solutions, the company’s corporate citizenship effort, based in Morristown, N.J. Close to 1,000 applications were received.

“We were looking for teachers who we know will go back and utilize the lessons and materials in the classrooms,” Ms. Sorge says. “The whole program is really hands-on. It is a unique experience because the teachers become the students and they learn new and innovative teaching techniques.”

In addition to taking notes, Mr. Lacombe says he took his hand-held video camera with him to make a video journal at space camp. He spoke into the camera at the end of each day, when the details of the activities were fresh in his mind.

“I do work diligently in my class to get them to have hands-on opportunities to encourage their learning, as opposed to telling them to read this many pages by tomorrow,” Mr. Lacombe says. “You never know when you might be teaching the next one that might end up doing something special.”

Going to space camp is the fulfillment of a childhood dream for Mr. Mitchell. He has always had an interest in space flights and astronauts. He hopes to share his enthusiasm with his students.

“In England, when I grew up, we didn’t have a very big space program,” Mr. Mitchell says. “I thought of space travel as any kid does. I grew up watching ‘Buck Rogers.’ This is like a dream come true.”

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