One giant leap for schoolteacher

Space camp aims to help educators fire pupils' enthusiasm

July 02, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Broadneck Elementary School teacher Katie Maloney loves outer space. Last summer, she was one of 144 teachers from all over the world to win a weeklong, all-expenses-paid trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., organized by technology giant Honeywell International.

This summer, though, she's done even better: She was one of only 16 teachers worldwide - and the only one on the East Coast - to attend an advanced space camp, again sponsored by Honeywell.

Participants got to tour Cape Canaveral in Florida, experience weightlessness and participate in a mock mission.

"It was phenomenal," said Maloney, who left June 16 and returned June 25.

This was the third year of the regular space camp and the second year of the advanced program, said Honeywell spokesman Jim O'Leary.

"Honeywell's goal with this program is to help these teachers inspire the next generation to pursue careers in science, math, engineering and technology," he said.

Only participants in the first camp could apply for the second one, which was much more competitive, he said.

The camp is intended for middle-school teachers and math teachers, but exceptional elementary teachers, such as Maloney, also may be accepted, he said. The 16 participants were from Ireland, South Africa, Canada, China, Belgium and the United States, he said. To get into the advanced camp, teachers had to explain how they used what they had learned the previous year.

Maloney had started an after-school rocket club, called BLAST (Broadneck Leaders At Science and Technology). The program, with 40 girls and 40 boys in grades three through five, met after school twice a week, Maloney said.

"It was really a rocket club," she said, explaining that the kids learned how to launch film canisters that were powered with antacid tablets, graduating from those to bottle rockets.

"It's all about making it fun and having them learn when they don't know they're learning," she said.

Kids had to fill out a three-page application to get into the club. Maloney was particularly happy that so many girls signed up, she said. Maloney ran the club with the help of eight parent volunteers and two Broadneck teachers - gifted and talented teacher Bronwyn Barto, and special education resource teacher Jessie Shattuck.

The club was funded through a $450 grant from The Washington Post.

At the space camp, Maloney said she recognized all 16 of the participants from last summer. "We instantly bonded because we're teachers of like minds - we love teaching kids about space," she said.

The group started at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, where they toured the Center for Space Education, saw an IMAX movie about space travel and rode simulators, which are open to the public. Then it was on to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, where they learned robotics, participated in a six-hour mock space shuttle mission and learned to scuba dive so they could experience weightlessness in a "neutral buoyancy tank."

"It was a three-hour crash course, and then we dove 26 feet," Maloney said. "It was fun."

Maloney and her fellow teachers liked the program so much they've come up with a proposal that might enable them to do it again. They have offered to give presentations at educational conferences in exchange for a third year of space camp.

O'Leary says he's "heard rumors" of this proposal but doesn't know the details yet or whether it will happen.

"These are the best and brightest teachers from across the world, and I'm interested in seeing what they have to say," he said.

Maloney, meanwhile, said she's eager to bring her new ideas and enthusiasm back to Broadneck.

"When we get inspired," she said, "we take it back to the classroom and inspire the baby astronauts, too."

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