By Kim Walter
After deciding to apply on a whim, Sherando High School science teacher Debra Edwards has been selected to participate in the 2013 Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy Program this summer.
The program, which runs for a week in June, is held at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. There, Edwards will engage in 45 hours of intensive classroom, laboratory and training focusing on space science and exploration.
Edwards said the amount of training time may seem overwhelming, but more than anything she's excited about the opportunity. The past two years, she's been able to participate in other educator outreach programs, including the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program.
"Since I've done some similar things before, I got an email about the space academy program," Edwards said Tuesday afternoon. "I figured I might as well send in an application."
She said the actual application process wasn't "too hard," as it mostly consisted of her describing prior experience with similar programs. She also had to share how she hoped to apply what she learned in her classroom.
The program selects 50 teachers from around the world to participate each year, and all costs associated with travel, tuition and room and board are covered.
One of the things that Edwards is looking forward to most is the chance to "walk on the moon" through a moon simulator. She said she will get to put on a space suit, which will reduce the amount of gravity experienced.
Participants also run space shuttle simulations, which put teachers in roles such as mission specialist, flight director, commander and shuttle pilot.
"I can't wait to meet all the other teachers who share the same passion for astronomy as I do," Edwards said. "And it will be really amazing to actually meet a real, live astronaut and get to do the same kinds of training as an astronaut."
Edwards said she already knows of a few lesson plans that she'll be able to use in her astronomy and earth science classes. Teacher workshops include the history of the space program, living and working in space and lessons about Mars and space gardening.
Rocket construction is one thing Edwards already does with her earth science students, but she said what she learns from the program's segment on such an activity will help to make her students' experience "even better."
Edwards, who attended the University of Buffalo in New York, actually majored in geology. However, when she came to Sherando in 2008, she was asked to teach an astronomy class.
It was then that she helped to rebuild the astronomy curriculum, as well as restart the high school's Astronomy Club in the fall of 2010. The club has picked up interest since, and Edwards said there are more members this year than last year.
Edwards said she believes that astronomy is important to a high school education because of its focus on STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"It gives students such a broader understanding of why we're here and why Earth is the way it is," she said. "It kind of helps students realize our place in the universe, and of course it's a plus that it ties in so many disciplines and gives students that applied knowledge that they need."
After this summer, Edwards said she hopes to take part in professional development so she can share her experience and newfound teaching tools with all science teachers in the division.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," she said. "I plan to take full advantage of it so that as many students and teachers as possible can benefit."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org