Teachers experience astronaut life at Space Academy

Published 1:12 pm Friday, June 15, 2018

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Three Chilton County educators were selected to participate in the Alabama Space Academy for Educators.

Jemison Elementary School teacher Beverly Wyatt and Verbena High School teachers Michael Martin and Beth Ann Pope experienced five days of mission simulations and exploration at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.

Martin said he had received information about attending the Space Academy from VHS principal Todd Davis.

“This camp was made possible through funding from the Alabama Legislature and required us to discuss our academic goals, why we wanted to attend, and also send samples of lesson plan(s) where we could integrate space concepts into our classroom,” Martin said.

As a high school math teacher with a long held dream of attending space camp, Martin jumped at the opportunity.

“I have wanted to attend Space Camp since I was a teenager,” Martin said. “Most do not realize that our quest to explore space has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, from wireless and medical technologies to day-to-day items, such as electronics and even diapers. But most of all, the quest to explore the unknown kindles human beings to gain a perspective of themselves and one part of a greater whole and to excite the mind to possibilities of what we can achieve if we work together.”

Wyatt also found out about the opportunity from her principal.

“I have always been intrigued by space and the space program,” Wyatt said.  “I was so sad when NASA retired the space shuttle, but to learn about the new Space Launch System that they are working on and that it will launch within the next two years is so exciting.”

VHS second-grade teacher Beth Ann Pope found out about the opportunity on a friend’s Facebook page.

“I have always wanted to experience Space Camp,” Pope said. “When I was presented with this opportunity, I knew I couldn’t pass it up.”

During the program, teachers participated in a number of hands-on science activities, experienced real NASA simulators used to prepare for space missions, studied the equipment, met astronaut Hoot Gibbons and completed a mission assignments.

“My favorite activities were those where we got to actually step out of our ‘comfort zone,’ take on the role of the student and do things unique to this experience, such as microgravity simulations,” Martin said.

Pope agreed.

“My favorite activity was the mission simulator. This activity made me step out of my comfort zone, and it also helped me see how my students feel when I ask them to do something that they wouldn’t normally do,” Pope said. “The mission taught us a lot about team work and how to support other people in everything they are doing. My team worked well together, and we did the best in the mission. My team was recognized during the graduation ceremony, and we received a special pen for our hard work.”

Wyatt and her team had to create “a heat shield to protect an egg from a blow torch” in addition to “building and launching rockets and creating a lander and rover to protect an egg when dropped from a second story landing.”

“My favorite activities were the Multi-Axis Trainer and building and launching the rockets,” Wyatt said.

Teachers developed lesson plans to connect their subject to what is done at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

“It (Space Academy experience) will allow me the tools necessary to allow my students to connect with those working in this exciting and rapidly growing area of aerospace,” Martin said. “But most of all, I think it allows me to set the example for my students that we are all lifelong learners that can never stop exploring and growing.”

Martin teaches algebra, geometry, Algebra II, Algebra II with Trig, and pre-calculus at Verbena High School.

He said he hopes sharing his experiences of participating in the Space Academy help his students think more about the world beyond Chilton County.

“I hope this program allows me to, in some small way, convey that to my kids and to also let them know that they can be anything they wish,” Martin said.

As the STREAM lab (science, technology, reading, engineering, art and math) teacher at JES, Wyatt plans to incorporate some of the activities she did during Space Academy into her lessons.

“I plan to use many of the activities with my students, including building and launching rockets and creating the lander and rover to protect the egg when it is dropped,” Wyatt said. ” These engineering activities will encourage the students to work together and create a solution to a problem. I am also excited to teach the students about the Space Launch System that NASA is working on now that will help to put us back on the moon and then onto Mars.”
She said she was thankful to those who make the Alabama Space Academy for Educators possible.