MOORE — “All systems are go for launch,” a space engineer announced before counting down the minutes to takeoff at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
“Three ... two ... one ... takeoff!”
The space shuttle went dark. The computers shut down. The astronauts panicked.
For a brief moment there was silence. And then laughter.
“We died,” Lois Sturch, a gifted program teacher at Moore's Bryant Elementary, said with a chuckle. “Thank God it wasn't the real thing.”
In June, Sturch and other teachers from across the globe took part in Honeywell Educators Space Academy, a professional development program designed to help middle school math and science teachers become more effective educators.
The program is sponsored by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and Honeywell Hometown Solutions, a Fortune 100 company that invents and manufactures technology relating to such fields as family safety and security, science and math education and humanitarian relief.
The mock space launch was one of many lessons teachers participated in during the five-day space academy.
Corporate donations and financial contributions from Honeywell employees pay for the teachers' tuition, round-trip airfare, meals, accommodations and program materials. Teachers stay in dorm rooms at the University of Alabama.
This year marked the space academy's ninth year of introducing teachers to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lessons with the hope they might incorporate the lessons into their classrooms.
“Students in the United States continue to fall behind the rest of the world in science, technology, engineering and math. The space academy is all about re-energizing teachers and filling them full of new ideas and concepts they can return to their classrooms,” Honeywell spokeswoman Kerry Kennedy said.
Making learning fun
Sturch, 60, plans to bring the lessons she learned in Huntsville to her classroom in Moore.
“We did this activity where we swabbed kiwis and strawberries and then put the swab in a reaction agent like baking soda or vinegar to see which one would have the best effect of extracting the fruits' DNA. We got to see the DNA, and that was very cool. I'll definitely use that lesson in my classes,” Sturch said.
Other lessons included “Martian Nation,” which focused on factorials, probability and order of operations; “Space Gardening,” which taught participants how to grow plants in space without the use of soil; and “Rocket Construction,” which allowed participants to design and launch water bottle rockets.
Sturch said she is an advocate for increasing students' knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and has written grants to government officials requesting additional funding for those subjects in public schools.
For students to become interested in STEM subjects, teachers must be excited to teach those subjects, she said.
“How can students become interested or excited in a subject if the way the teacher introduces it to her classroom is boring, monotone or without any confidence in her own knowledge?” Sturch asked.
“These subjects aren't just intimidating to students, they are intimidating to teachers as well. We need to make sure we've mastered the subject and are excited about it before we even introduce it to our students.”
Bryant Elementary Principal Kristen Kuepker said she was delighted that one of the teachers from her school was selected for the space academy.
“Anytime you can get kids excited about what you're teaching, it's always a benefit to them. If they are learning in a hands-on way by a teacher who is genuinely excited about the material, they are going to have a more vested interest in that subject. Those are going to be the lessons they'll remember,” Kuepker said.
Sturch said on her free time she enjoys looking for professional development opportunities. Of those she's attended, she said, space academy has been her favorite.
“This summer was amazing. I had the time of my life,” she said.