Teaching the final frontier Space: Five teachers travel the country demonstrating science projects designed to encourage interest in careers with NASA.

December 04, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Teacher Katrina Robinson raises her hands as if in prayer and tells her young charges to do likewise.

"One, two, three -- rub your hands together," she yells to the 200 fourth-graders who are part of a science assembly at Arbutus Elementary School.

"See how warm your hands are," she says as they touch their faces. "That's the result of friction, and that's what the astronauts feel when the space shuttle re-enters our atmosphere."

The children are in a program designed to interest students, especially minorities and girls, in pursuing careers with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Five teachers, including Robinson, visit urban schools around the country for a month of intensive work in space-related science classes.

Robinson's three-day stop at Arbutus this week is a favor to Arbutus Elementary Principal Barbara Bohl. The two women worked together until last year at Powhatan Elementary in Woodlawn, where Robinson was a fourth-grade teacher and Bohl the principal.

"This is one way to keep them tuned in to science," said Bohl. "Trying on a space suit, seeing the model of the space shuttle -- this gets them excited."

Robinson, who lives in Randallstown, will be honored Monday at the Baltimore County schools' Science Recognition Awards Dinner for promoting creative approaches to science curriculum, including using a weather satellite as a teaching tool during the ,, last two of her four years at Powhatan. Grants from private groups and Powhatan's PTA paid for the $5,000 satellite, she said.

"I didn't discover that I was good in science until my junior year of college," said Robinson, 35. "If I had known earlier, I probably would have become a chemist or a geologist. I don't want that to happen other children."

To boost her knowledge, she attended the seven-month Johns Hopkins University's Space Science Internship Program for Teachers during the 1994-1995 school year, where she studied astrophysics and got hands-on experience with a weather satellite during a subsequent six-week internship at NASA's Goddard Space Center.

The Waco, Texas, native impressed NASA officials with her enthusiasm for science and hard work, making her an ideal candidate to teach in the Urban Community Enrichment Program. When a teacher in that program left to take a job with a university last summer, NASA called Robinson to interview for the position.

"She presents herself well, she speaks well, she was ideal," said Joe Martel, the NASA program's coordinator.

Robinson visited Wichita, Kan., and Tulsa, Okla., schools earlier this fall and, in February, the entire team goes to Texas. Her Arbutus visit is particularly timely because beginning this school year, Baltimore County fourth-grade science classes must include study of space. It marks the influence of a nationwide trend of using space to get students interested in science, she said.

Yesterday, Robinson spoke at two assemblies and taught two fourth-grade classes. Today, she will help fifth-graders make and launch model rockets.

Tomorrow, she will teach three third-grade classes. Early in her presentation yesterday, Robinson answered the most frequently asked question: "How do astronauts dressed in spacesuits go to the bathroom?"

Tilting her head to the left side, she answered, "They wear adult-size Pampers."

The fourth-graders roared with laughter.

They chuckled, too, when learning that astronauts can sleep on the ceiling, sip hot chocolate through a straw with a shut-off valve and operate a computer attached to their space suits.

The students were visibly thrilled with Robinson's van-load of demonstration models, including four space vehicles, a mock Hubble space telescope, a child-size space suit, a "sleep-restraint" suit and the astronauts' vacuum-packed, dehydrated food.

After her lecture and demonstration, about six students crowded around Robinson, asking questions and helping her repack the model spaceships.

"I like this; I never knew space could be this fun," said Angelo Bennett, 10.

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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