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EHS Teachers Learn From NASA Experience

By Staff | Apr 8, 2008

The tables were turned recently when a pair of Emmetsburg High School teachers became the students in a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity. Mindy Ross, science teacher at the high school, and Jeny Garst, high school math teacher, participated in a NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) teacher experience Feb. 20-24.

Ross first heard of the opportunity to participate in the experience while attending a science educators’ conference in Ames last October.

“After I learned about the chance to do this, I approached Jeny Garst and we applied as a team,” explained Ross.

The pair traveled to Hunts-ville, Alabama, where they spent five days at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

“Our experience basically consisted of hearing presentations about the past, present, and future of NASA, especially what they are doing right now,” Ross noted. “We got to go on tours of the working facilities and had a chance to see what they are building models of right now.”

The NASA experience was geared towards educators. Teachers participating in the experience were offered two graduate college credits.

“We were presented the opportunity to engage our students both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Garst. “The point of the program was to get our kids inspired about science.”

While it was a goal of the program to inspire students back home, the program also had a similar effect on the teachers.

“Mindy and I were so excited,” Garst noted. “It was a great learning experience.”

There was more to the week-long event that just listening to informational presentations. There were also “hands on” learning opportunities.

“We had the chance to build hobby style rockets, and during the tours we got to go to the top of a 300-foot tall test stand,” Ross explained.

Garst added, “To see the size of the structures they use was amazing. We really got an appreciation of how enormous everything is. Everything they use is custom-made.”

“We also got to see the engines they use–that was really neat,” Ross added. “We walked away quite informed.”

Garst shared that before she traveled to Huntsville, she didn’t know much about the aeronautics and space program. The trip changed all that. In addition to educating themselves about the program, the Emmetsburg teachers are also educating their students about what they learned.

“I think we spent 45 to 60 minutes with the kids showing them photographs we took and explaining what we had learned,” said Garst. “I probably had 90 percent of them asking good questions, and I had good answers to their questions. They were very engaged.”

Ross shared her experience with both the staff and her students with a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation.

“I now have real information that I can bring back and share about NASA’s future projects,” said Ross.

Ross noted that she was most impacted by the Communications Center for the International Space Center.

“There were eight people in a room with 50 computers,” she smiled. “It’s exactly how I pictured NASA to be.”

Garst shared that her favorite part of the trip was experienced on her third day at the Space and Rockets Center.

“We went to the museum there and really got to understand the history of the program,” said Garst. “It helped me to appreciate it all. If I would have went to the museum on my first day, I doubt it would have impacted me so much. My knowledge really grew.”

It seems that the effects of the trip to Huntsville are still reverberating. Ross applied to attend a summer program at the Space Academy through Honeywell, and she won. This summer, June 17-23, she will get to experience life as an astronaut in training.

Garst was similarly affected.

“This experience has really given me a direction to go,” she said. “I’m really interested in space and rocket science.”