Teachers Space Out for Students

By Mimi Slawoff

STEM Education Camp

James Smith, right, who teaches fifth and sixth graders in Culver City, attended a space camp just for educators during the summer. PHOTO COURTESY HESA

As a child, Joanne Michael loved looking at stars and learning about the universe. Now, as a teacher, she prepares to spark that love in her students each time she participates in Honeywell Educators at Space Academy (HESA). The program shows teachers how to ignite their students’ passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). 

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. This was an amazing way of combining passions,” says Michael, a science teacher at Meadows Elementary School in Valencia who attended HESA for the third time this summer. This session, she served as one of four ambassadors, working with crew trainers and other teachers. 

Michael was one of four L.A.-area educators to attend HESA. Laura Mann-Krieger of Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank, Danielle Werts of Golden Valley High School in Santa Clarita and James Smith of Echo Horizon School in Culver City were on their first mission. More than 200 teachers from 33 countries and 45 U.S. states and territories attended the two-week course.  

The teachers participate in 45 hours of classroom and laboratory instruction focused on science, space exploration and leadership-skills development. They also engage in astronaut-style exercises such as high-performance jet simulations, scenario-based space missions, coding challenges, land and water survival training and interactive flight dynamics. The idea is to bring these experiences back to the classroom and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. 

“I have done two high-altitude weather-balloon launches with my elementary school students. The latest one, in March, went 110,288 feet – almost 21 miles!” Michael says. She next plans to make amateur radio contact with an astronaut soaring overhead on the International Space Station (called an ARISS contact).  

Smith, who teaches fifth and sixth graders at Echo Horizon, says the Space Academy’s exercises align perfectly with his school’s curriculum. “One thing we try to emphasize is the process of design thinking through engineering challenges,” he says. “Honeywell Space Camp offered us these same challenges.”  

For instance, the teachers learned to build a pod that will keep a rover safe when landing from a great height. “It’s this innovative way of thinking that I want to bring into the classroom,” Smith says. “Ultimately, I want students to be able to make connections between the content we learn in the class and real-world applications.” 

For more information about HESA, visit www.educators.honeywell.com. 

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