Annual Conference Helps Educators and Aerospace Professionals Unite
Educators from around the world participated the 18th Annual Space Exploration Educator Conference (SEEC), held at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) and Space Center Houston (SCH) from Feb. 2-4. This year’s theme was “Exploring New Horizons.”
Through a series of seminars, hands-on activities and guest speakers such as former NASA astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, Dr. Maria Zuber, NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao and historic NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, the participants gained a wealth of knowledge about the space program and up-to-date information about the International Space Program (ISS) to share with their students and the public. This year the event welcomed educators from 37 states and six countries, totaling 472 attendees.
“The original goal was to inform educators and get them excited about the International Space Station,” said Angela Case, outreach coordinator, Educational Programs, SCH. “Our goal is the same now, except we want to give educators an opportunity to find out what is going on in the space program so they can go back in the classroom and share it with their students.”
Attendees participated in numerous learning sessions like “Art in Space” where they were taught how creativity and space collide, sharing and creating some fun art ideas dealing with the topic of space and space exploration. This session demonstrated how students can show off their creativity while learning about space. “Astronaut Rescue” allowed teachers to engage in a rescue mission of a stranded
space shuttle where they used their critical thinking skills to eliminate and discover possible locations for the shuttle. This lesson used Skype to simulate communication between a space station and mission control. “Steam Engines to Stars” allowed attendees to learn how stars operate like steam engines. Through a series of classroom-ready activities, they gained a historical and technical understanding of heat and temperature and learned ways of seeing thermal energy, and build a steam engine
and infrared filter adapters for a digital camera.
Tours and hands-on activities
The attendees also toured many buildings that are not a part of the standard tours for both JSC and SCH.
“The teachers love having this as a bonus to the professional development activities they learn during the three days of SEEC,” said Lisa Roberts, project coordinator, Aerospace Education Services Project at JSC. “Having the ability to actually tour and hear from subject matter experts on topics they have just done a hands-on activity allows the teachers to provide a complete overview of the topic to their students.”
The teachers were allowed to take pictures and were also able to use iPads to record some of the subject matter experts talking about their jobs, what they do each day, what inspired them as students when they were in school and how their project is helping the space program move forward in exploration and life on Earth.
Roberts said the guests loved all the tours, “and space food is always a hit as we can all relate to food and how we pack food for long duration travels, even for that week long family vacation. Spin-offs, some people do not realize they use in their everyday life.”
“In Building 350 pyrotechnics, they all talked about the opportunity to make a big BANG!” Roberts sad. “This was the first time this tour was offered at SEEC, so this one really ‘sparked’ everyone’s interest.”
They also saw Historic Mission Control Center (MCC) as well as the space station’s flight control room. The group heard inspiring stories about the history of MCC and about everything that happened in that room, including how young some of the engineers and scientists actually were who took on this “incredible challenge of space travel that only a few had ever imagined as a possibility.” While visiting the station flight control room, the group saw astronauts living and working in real-time in space as they perform their daily activities and experiments.
“In addition, we hosted the JSC Innovation Showcase, which allowed the teachers to talk with subject matter experts from around the center,” Roberts said. “They could ask questions, learn about resources and activities for both themselves and their students. This actually ties a human factor to NASA and allows not only the teachers but the community to relate to NASA and understand how exploration helps to improve life here on Earth.”
Roberts said the banquet also provided a fun evening for the teachers and an opportunity for them to dance the night away to songs by Max Q, the band composed of astronauts, and have fun with teachers and guests.
“This is one of the highlights for the teachers and once again brings a human relatable factor to NASA,” Roberts said.
Having helped to plan and support SEEC for 12 years, Roberts said teachers have expressed the one thing that means the most to them year after year is that “they always hear from JSC employees, Education team, Public Affairs Office team, scientists, engineers and astronauts about how important teachers are and that they are the most valuable resource we have.”
Roberts said one teacher told her, “I was unaware NASA offered so much in resources for me as an educator. I am actually looking forward to school on Monday, so I can share all the information and new activities with my students.”
How does this benefit NASA and JSC?
It benefits NASA to give the teachers first-hand experience and learn hands-on activities using space to teach subjects cross curriculum. The teachers return to school prepared and ready to inspire, which in turn motivates their students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Inspiring the next generation of scientist and engineers is an advantage to NASA and JSC, “as we continue to build up a workforce that will help us reach all of our future goals of exploration,” Roberts explained.
Partnering and hosting the conference at SCH has great benefits, as the public visiting the museum learns that NASA is still focused on exploration since the retirement of the shuttle. They also learn of NASA’s technical contributions to their daily lives as well as supporting the educators in passing on knowledge to the next generation. On Friday, Feb. 3, guests attended the JSC Innovation Showcase event where members of the JSC Education team supported different booths and also had different projects from across the center hosting booths.
Visitors learned about new spacesuit designs, next generation of space transportation, underwater robotics and ISS and that NASA is moving forward in exploration on Earth and beyond. In turn, they have up-to-date knowledge to share about the space program. Informing educators also helps alleviate misconceptions about the center closing its doors and instead spreads factual information about new projects and future goals for exploration.
Neesha Hosein, 281-792-7516
Johnson Space Center, Houston