Mission to learn: Teacher gains wealth of knowledge at space camp

Jul. 29, 2013 @ 02:27 PM

Not many people can say they spent part of their summer in a space shuttle simulator but Tamra Schuch of Morris Grove Elementary can.

The fourth-grade teacher spent a week in Huntsville, Ala., at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center with other teachers from across the nation who were chosen to attend the camp as a means of livening up their classrooms by coming up with new ways to engage their students.
The Honeywell Educators @ Space Camp gave Schuch a better understanding of what it means to be an astronaut.
“I participated in simulated missions,” she explained. “I was a missions specialist on a spacecraft. It was like being a real astronaut. It’s was really a learning experience. We had to learn the controls and the switches, and there were a lot of them, in order to get a true understanding of what it’s like. It’s a lot of science and math.
“It was fun and we learned so much. It was such a range of things we did.”
Living like a college student for a week in the University of Alabama’s Frank Franz residence hall with all expenses paid, Schuch said she has quite a bit to take back to her students who she said “absolutely love science.”
Besides the simulated space missions, the range included separating DNA strands, shooting off rockets and purifying water. The participants also did some astronaut training, which meant that Schuch went ziplining, swam out of a submerged tank and worked on several impromptu problem-solving projects.
“They wanted us to think on our feet like astronauts,” Schuch said. “You don’t have time to think, you just have to do. I really appreciate that kind of thinking. We programmed robots and I can’t wait to get some into my classroom.”
Schuch hopes that with grant funding she can make teaching her students about the moon more hands-on and interactive.
“I want us to create a program and build a colony on the moon,” she said, explaining a future class project. “We’ll use geometric shapes to build the colonies. I’m trying to get a grant to get little robots in the classroom [so] when we put our project together we can program our robots to go to different places on the moon.”
Schuch said that she came to realize that many children use programs all the time but have no real understanding of how they work.
“I want them to get an idea of what robots do and how to program [them]. We understand how the programming was coming about to get the results we wanted but I don’t think our children have that understanding.”
Another lesson that Schuch will pass on to her students is extent of the global community of which they are a part.
“I want to show my students that there is a global interest in finding out what’s out there (in space). We’ll talk about the purpose of the international space station, having them find it in the sky and connect them with it. We can talk about what’s been done in different countries and compare them and look at what’s being done,” she said. “We can tie in why it’s important to work together and help them understand that because of the risks they’ve taken, we’ve made progress.”