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In June, Apex Middle School sixth-grade science teacher Mark Hipps got be an astronaut.
Well, sort of.
Hipps attended the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy, a professional development program in Huntsville, Ala., for math and science teachers. A recipient of one of 185 scholarships given to teachers from 37 states and 19 countries, he attended simulated astronaut training at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
Q: Kids all over the world would love to attend space camp. What did you do there?
A: We did experiments just like the students do. One of the things we had to try to do was design an undercoating or paneling for the space shuttle so that it didnt burn up. We tested it with a blowtorch.
Q: What is the part of your week-long experience that stands out to you?
A: I enjoyed meeting the teachers from around the world. My two roommates were from Nigeria. There were roughly 100 teachers put into groups of 14, and each group had a trainer. The passion that everyone there has for science and space impressed me a lot; everyone lives and breathes it. That made a big impression. Our trainer was working toward being a teacher in space.
Q: What did you take away from the presentations from the staff?
A: They talked about technology and history a lot. Politics eased its way in. They were upset that much of NASAs funding had been cut. One of the things they kept telling us was to encourage our students there will be astronauts in space.
Q: What did you bring back to use in your classroom?
A: I have some concrete lesson plans. One involves the question, how do you keep astronauts alive? We will talk about water purification and do our own experiments.
Q: There has been a lot of talk about the focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). What have you observed about students who enter your class? Are they excited about science, or do they find it ho-hum?
A: A lot of kids come to sixth-grade without a lot of science. Some kids think that science is just a matter of memorizing terms.
Sixth-grade is a big transition year, and some kids are surprised at how fun science can be.
I can see the impact of my passion about science and how it affects the students. I think rocks are fascinating. I teach rocks, and I am amazed at how my attitude about them inspires students to buy rock tumblers and find out more on their own. Teachers have a responsibility to pass along their passion.
Q: Why are workshops like the Space Academy so important for teachers?
A: Actually, I am a little embarrassed to receive this attention just for attending Space Camp while so many teachers are doing really cool and creative things in their classrooms with very little fanfare.
In my opinion, teachers are starving for training, especially in technology, and they are frustrated with the limited availability and/or cost. I dont know if people realize how much of an impact these types of teacher programs have on teacher enthusiasm and motivation.