Sherando teacher soars at space camp

By Kim Walter

For one week in June, Debra Edwards was feeling like a kid again.

Due to a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” Edwards found herself at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., participating in mission training, facility tours, watching IMAX movies and walking on a gravity simulator.

Of course, she was also preoccupied with hands-on projects and educator workshops.

Edwards, an Earth science and astronomy teacher at Sherando High School, was selected several months ago to participate in the 2013 Honeywell Educators at Space Academy Program. Created in partnership with the center, the program is designed to help math and science teachers from around the world become more effective educators in science, technology, engineering and math.

Honeywell Hometown Solutions, the company’s corporate citizenship initiative, covered all of Edwards’ costs associated with travel, tuition and room and board.

Edwards said her first day at the program was focused on getting to know the other roughly one hundred teachers there. She said she mostly interacted with the 16 teachers in her group, since she would be spending most of her time during the week with them.

“I got to meet teachers from all over the country, but also some from Australia, Romania and Indonesia,” she said Friday. “That was interesting in itself, to be able to learn about how other school systems work around the world.”

She said she felt the program struck a good balance between the “space camp” activities and the teacher workshops.

“Oh, I got to ride the space shop, sit in the multi-axis trainer … that thing that spins you around,” she said, laughing. “It was seriously so much fun … I felt like a young student.”

The educator workshops were just as exciting to Edwards, who has been at Sherando for five years. Besides teaching the two types of science classes, she is also the adviser for the school’s recently formed Astronomy Club.

Edwards and her group members were able to work on projects and activities that they could actually use with curriculum in the classroom.

She picked up on a few projects in particular that she could see benefiting all of her students.

One task was to create a shield no thicker than 3 centimeters for an egg – the “astronaut” – that could withstand heat from a blowtorch for three minutes. She said it represented a shuttle’s reentry into the atmosphere from space.

Another project required that group members build a lunar base using a limited budget and certain materials. They would need to regulate things like people in the base, oxygen levels, food and other necessities.

“This touched on so many different subjects, and at the end we had to give a presentation on our base, so I can’t wait to use this project with my students,” she said.

Honeywell also provided teachers with material costs and lesson plans to go with the new projects. Edwards said she could tell the program was made specifically for educators.

Before the start of the upcoming school year, Edwards will provide some professional development on her experiences to a number of Frederick County teachers.

“One thing that I loved about this was how energized and refreshed everyone felt,” she said. “After teaching the same thing over and over, sometimes you need a jump start to get you more enthusiastic about your curriculum. This experience did just that.”

Edwards expressed her gratitude to Honeywell for funding the trip, as she said she realizes it “had to have been an expensive week.”

Sherando students should keep an eye out for Edwards on the first day of schoo– she said she plans to wear her new flight suit to class.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com