By Brianna Mathias
MAYER, DASSEL, COKATO, MN Two area teachers applied, and were chosen to attend Honeywell Educators at Space Academy (HESA), at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. During the week, they were surrounded by about 100 fellow middle school math and science teachers from 36 states and 25 countries.
Since 2004, Honeywell Hometown Solutions has been teaming up with the US Space and Rocket Center to host the HESA program. This hands-on experience includes a week full of classroom activities as well as interactive space simulations to help teachers more efficiently teach science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects.
“It was amazing being able to meet so many teachers from around the world,” Our Savior Excelsior School teacher Carol Esser said. “In my group, nine states and five other countries were represented.”
Dassel-Cokato Middle School teacher, Beth Keskey said her team also included people from all over the globe. Some were from Romania, Mexico, Finland, Australia, India, and various parts of the US.
Teamwork was a main focus of this space camp, as participants were put into groups with complete strangers whom they had to work with all week.
“The team-building exercises were challenging at first,” Keskey said. “In the classroom, if the kids don’t like their partners, I expect them to try to get along, but it’s a really hard thing to do. We didn’t all communicate the same way so we had to move past that. I really learned how to get over differences in groups and work with team members.”
Keskey said her team members taught her many other lessons.
“Overall, the greatest part was not only getting to hang out with inspirational characters, but being able to talk to people from around the world and see what they do in their classrooms,” Keskey said. “Some of their methods were so simple, but innovative. It was cool to meet amazing other teachers doing awesome things.”
Esser, too, had positive experiences with her group.
“My roommate from South Africa and I talked and we came up with the idea of creating videos for our students,” Esser said. “We now have a Facebook page for our group and everything. Each member is making just a snippet of the video, and one member is going to edit them together so we can show the video in our classrooms to give our students a taste of the international aspect of it.”
Throughout the week, teams had the opportunity to participate in mission simulations. According to Keskey, there were two main missions in which each member of the group had a specific role in solving the problem at hand.
“My favorite part would probably be the mission to the moon,” Esser said. “I got to land on the moon and fix a window on the space station.”
Esser said her job during the other mission was in space control, solving problems and communicating with the astronauts behind the scenes. Keskey said she was assigned the role of an engineer for one mission.
“I was stationed on the International Space Station,” Keskey said. “I wore a spacesuit and was put into a “micro g”chair that mimics space, while I had to create a lattice structure. If you didn’t hold onto the chairs, you’d float away.”
Before each mission, the groups were given some instruction and training; however, during the mission, Esser said they would be given an “anomaly,” an unexpected problem they’d have to solve.
With these anomalies, and the fact that there were time limits corresponding to oxygen levels, Keskey said the challenges were quite tricky.
“For the lunar mission, I had to go down, land on the moon and repair filters and circuits,” Keskey said. “They’d throw in a challenge, and we’d have to really work together.”
The HESA experience wasn’t limited to team building and space simulations. Teachers were also given many educational materials and heard speakers.
“One thing they kept repeating was that we are educating the next generation for Mars,” Keskey said.
Astronaut Bob Springer, and famous NASA engineer, Homer Hickam were among the speakers. Each instructor was given a copy of Hickam’s memoir, “Rocket Boys,” the book on which the movie “October Sky” was based.
“I’m looking forward to reading his book,” Esser said.
Keskey said she also had the opportunity to meet and converse with rocket scientists who worked on the Apollo missions.
Both teachers said they had an amazing time at this space camp, and that STEM education is essential.
“STEM is at the heart of so many things in our world,” Esser said. “By the time the next generation grows up, there are going to to be so many new careers. STEM will give students the tools like critical thinking and problem solving, which will help them fill these future careers.”
Keskey said the space part of science is amazing and it interests people from all over the world.
“I think space sparks our curiosity, it makes us think about what could be out there,” Keskey said. “The idea of space travel could be globally unifying.”