Saturday, June 27, 2009

Why Teach?

The question I often hear isn't always the same, but runs along this basic line, "What made you want to be a teacher?" Some times this is in reference to the low pay or more frequently because I went into secondary education and no one can figure out why I would want to work with teenagers. To answer that question, I have some of the more typical responses about how I like working with kids (they're actually pretty funny) and I that I want to do something challenging where the day is never the same. Depending on who is asking the question, you may get one of those responses, especially if you were one of my professors filling out an evaluation. If you really want to know . . . just read on.

When I was in the eighth grade I had my first volunteer experience at the Christa McAliffe Space Education Center in Pleasant Grove. I had been attending the center on field trips, private flights, and summer camps since the sixth grade. Before then I had posthumously experienced them through my older brother when he would come back and set off my imagination with the stories from his visits. My volunteer visit evolved from an occasional one to a steady weekly attendance. I like to think that it was because I did such a good job, but it also helps that no one liked doing the stuff I had to do. Over the years I worked my way up the volunteering ladder and eventually became a paid employee. From start to finish I spent six years of weekends, summers, and the occasional evening private flight at the space center.

There was something unique about how one felt at the space center and I deduced that it was somehow related to teaching. To test the idea I earned a bachelors degree in Social Studies Composite from Utah State University. So far I haven't been disappointed with my hypothesis about teaching bringing that similar feeling the space center did. You see, whenever the students would enter into a simulator I ran, they offered me a challenge. I had to keep their attention, try to teach them something, and most importantly help them succeed. With teaching, it is the same in my eyes. Instead of a roaring cheer at the end of a mission as the ship sails safely away, I have the "ah ha" moments when students finally catch onto some new concept or recognize how a calculation works. It is a wonderful feeling that I haven't found anywhere else.

In a nutshell, this is my reason for teaching. I suppose I am sort of greedy. With the help of the community I hope to start up this space education center for the purpose of satisfying my needs. I need to hear fifteen students cheering at the top of their lungs after narrowly avoiding death. I need to watch as a shy stuttering boy steps up to his role as the ambassador of a starship and gains the praise of his classmates. I need to help students know that they can succeed at anything and experience what it is like. For all this to happen I need to have the support of the community to give the students in our area a chance to experience something amazing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's Over Already?

Some of the most disappointing words at the space center are, "Sorry, but we are out of time and we have to end your mission now." Field trips last just under two hours and it is a difficult thing for students to learn their position, get underway safely, encounter the problem, and save the universe all in such a short time. That's why there are private flights, overnighters, and summer camps.

Private flights are setup to allow a group of friends or family to come and experience the space center together in a convenient time frame. These are really well suited for birthday parties as it allows the group to have a good time for two and a half hours, it doesn't take up the whole day, and it is as affordable as going to the movies. Afterward you can go home to cake and have fun talking about the adventure you just experienced.

Overnighters are probably the most popular because they allow students to really get immersed in their mission. For a total of 5 flight hours the crew will head off into space and face the unknown. Landing on strange planets, bartering with traders, battling space pirates, exploring nebulae, and completely escaping reality from Friday night to Saturday morning. Many of the overnight weekends are reserved by teachers so that their students can all sign up for the same date. This means that when they get there they are going with their friends and not experiencing being away from home for the night with complete strangers.

Summer camps are the ultimate experience without any time restrictions allowing amazing simulator experience mixed with classroom activities. Many of the activities include building and launching rockets, teamwork exercises, science experimentation, and of course even longer more elaborate simulator missions. Summer camps can range from 1 to 4 days in length; some spending the night, others coming in the morning and leaving in the evening for several days in a row. With a variety of options parents can find a camp that best suits their child and gives them an opportunity to be involved in something unforgettable.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Field Trips

The field trip is the backbone of any space center. It is the reason for their existence. Teachers bring their students to enhance the learning that is taking place in the classroom. So what goes on in a field trip to the space center?

The first thing that happens actually takes place in the classroom. Before you fly off into space there is a lot of preparation that needs to take place so that the experience can be a success. Teachers will need to read the Mission Briefing with their students and select the crew positions. There are also lesson plans and activities that help lead up to the field trip for teachers to use, not to mention the great motivational tool that has now been given to the teacher as students performance, behavior, and class participation can determine positions or other rewards related to the field trip.

Once the fateful day arrives, it is time to board the bus and see how the students perform. At this point the class will have already been split into two groups. The first group will head directly into the simulator for nearly two hours of flight time. The other group will begin in the classroom and planetarium section of the field trip. After eating lunch the second group will trade places with the first and it will be their turn in the simulator. As the field trip comes to a close, it's time to load the bus full of energized students to head home and tell their tales of danger and exploration.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thomas Edison Charter School visits the CMSEC

Arising early on a Tuesday morning, eight lucky souls piled into a vehicle and started the two hour journey from Cache Valley to Pleasant Grove. Upon arriving at the space center anyone would get out of their vehicle and be confused. "Where's the space center? This is just looks like an elementary school!" Once you enter into the space center you come to find that small additions that utilize every inch of space create an amazingly unique experience.
Our small group started off with a tour by the space center creator and director, Victor Williamson. We visited the five simulators, the Discovery classroom, and the starlab. It is fascinating to think that back in 1990 this now extensive program started out as a classroom lesson using an overhead projector, some transparencies, an imaginative teacher, and a captivated room of students. Eventually our tour ended, and with a few questions answered our crew was ready to get started on a mission of their own.

The brave crew of the Phoenix, that's one of the simulators, consisted of six fearless rookies. We brought along three Thomas Edison students and three parents for the adventure. Our reluctant captain was faced with a crew that had no idea what they were about to experience. Narrowly avoiding catastrophe several times throughout the mission, they finally reached the end. Since I wasn't part of the crew I can't speak for how they felt about the mission, but I can say that our captain might have punched her make believe nemesis if she had the chance.

You are probably wondering why a group would travel so long to visit such a place. The answer is that it can be found no where else in the world. The space center is truly unique in the experience they offer as they blast you off into an interactive story that no movie, video game, or other activity can simulate. You shouldn't feel bad for our small crew since many have traveled from much farther such as Idaho, Nevada, California, and even Russia. So two hours isn't all that bad, if the company is good.

That still doesn't fully answer the question of why attend. The parents and faculty of Thomas Edison see that the space center program is an amazing opportunity to teach students and excite them about learning. So why should such a place only exist in one location? With the support of the community, Thomas Edison Charter School hopes to be the host of a space education center that can service the students and community of Cache Valley and the surrounding area. A lot of preparation and work still lies ahead to get a program like this running, but we hope to keep you informed on our progress and that you might see ways to help us in that endeavor. So stay tuned.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Interviews about the Space Center

A similar space center program, iWorlds, was started up in Murray with the help of the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center. This video gives a good quick glimpse into the program. The interviews provided were teachers and students who participated in the CMSEC program.