"What I did on my summer vacation"
by Sara Poreda
"Summer vacation" and "teacher" - when used in the same sentence these words typically produce responses varying from eye-rolling and head-shaking to exclamations of "Boy, it would be nice to have a job that gave me summers off."
While I won't deny that having a "summer vacation" is a nice perk, for myself, and many other teachers locally and around the globe, summer vacation does not simply mean a time for relaxing on the beach with lemonade and a good book. Instead it is a time when teachers engage in important professional development, a time to learn new ideas and strategies to make our teaching better, more interesting and motivating for our new group of students in the fall.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend a week of my summer doing just that in Huntsville, Alabama, as I attended Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy.
Our training began as soon as we entered baggage claim at the Huntsville airport. Two crew trainers greeted us in flight suits. Our nerves were quickly eased as we waited with our new teammates and colleagues from all over the world (43 states and 27 countries were represented). As the introductions and icebreakers flowed, connections among grades and subjects taught and the sharing of ideas helped create fast friends. By the time of arrival at the University of Alabama dorms, our accommodations for the next week, and the receiving of our own flight suits, we were all brimming with excitement as only teachers can for our impending journey into space!
For the next five days we were immersed in STEM education, which focuses on the link between science, technology, engineering and math. Using the vast world of space, and its many unexplored areas, amazing realities and unanswered questions, as our platform, we engaged in 45 hours of classroom lessons, lab work and hands-on training. The journey included everything from land and water survival training to building and launching rockets to high-tech flight simulations and space missions. We were presented with and created motivating and engaging lesson plans and experienced and developed team-building activities including learning what it's like to walk on the moon. We shared ideas, encountered challenges, and communicated and worked together to learn from both success and failure.
During our time in Huntsville, we were exposed to a variety of resources and teachers. We learned from our crew trainers, personnel from the NASA Education Resource Center, two astronauts, and even Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer whose memoir "Rocket Boys" inspired the movie "October Sky." The wisdom, ideas and strategies shared by each of these people was immeasurable, and helped us grow as individuals, a group, and teachers. Most importantly, everything we learned was tied back to our classrooms, showing us how to get students interested in science and technology.
Although we learned so much from our distinguished crew trainers and special guests, the learning didn't end after our sessions and workshops. On this vacation, there wasn't much time for relaxation, and with all of the people to meet, ideas to be learned, and things to do, relaxing was far from any of our minds. The networking that began at space camp has continued to flourish over the weeks since we left camp. Through social media, Google Docs, and classroom websites, we have been able to share countless ideas, strategies, and content across the globe. We have created a platform to ask questions, get advice, and share successes, so that we continue to learn from the successes and struggles of others.
As fall approaches, I am excited to be able to share all that I have learned with my students at Holy Ghost Lutheran School.