As a child, Holley Sykes always wanted to go to space camp. This summer, she finally got her chance.
Sykes was one of three Oklahoma elementary teachers who got the chance to attend astronaut training at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., in June. The Honeywell Educators at Space Academy awarded scholarships to 220 teachers from around the country and globe for the nearly two-week program.
The goal of the training was to provide teachers with new ideas and activities to make science and math more interesting to their students. Sykes, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Briarwood Elementary School, said she’ll be taking several of the hands-on activities back to her classroom.
She, along with Jennifer Daftari, a fifth-grade teacher at Jay Upper Elementary in northeast Oklahoma, and Skip Gore, a fifth-grade teacher at Horace Mann Elementary in Shawnee, did everything from build their own Mars rovers to landing the space shuttle.
“(It) reignited my excitement for learning because a lot of the things we did were things that really stretched us,” Daftari said.
Particularly difficult were the mission simulations. First, everyone went through shuttle orientation, which introduced all the parts and people associated with the space shuttle, from flight crew to mission control. Then, throughout training, there were several two-hour missions to perform, with each teacher playing a different role.
“The day I was pilot on the space shuttle was challenging,” Sykes said. “There’s a lot to do, and you never really get a break that whole two hours.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be astronaut training without everyone’s favorite part ” learning how to deal with that pesky gravitational pull. Well, it’s almost everyone’s favorite part. Daftari said she was a little nervous about simulating three or four gravitational pulls.
“I typically get motion sickness, so I was kind of hesitant to go on it,” she said. “But everyone kind of cheered everyone on, so I ended up going on it, and it was such a sense of accomplishment.”
The teachers got to play out their space exploration dreams, but, ultimately, the program was about what they could take back to their kids.
“A lot of times, our kids get frustrated with math and science because they’re difficult concepts,” said Sykes, who teaches in the Moore Public Schools district. “So that was one of the reasons I was really excited about going through this training was that they showed us new ways to get hands-on activities into the classrooms.”
Come this fall, that’s exactly what students of these three teachers will get. All looked forward to implementing into their curriculum some of the lesson plans, like “Toys in Space,” which asks children to first build toys and then predict how they’ll act in zero gravity.
Student excitement was the goal of the program.
“The CEO spoke to us, and he said that they were talking about paying for children to go to space camp, which they do,” Daftari said. “But he said, ‘If you touch a teacher, then that teacher can in turn touch hundreds of students.'” “Nicole Hill
photo Jennifer Daftari at the Honeywell Space Academy for Educators