Editor’s note: The following letter is in response to the article in last week’s school news section titled “WHS Students Visit Kennedy Space Center.”
I worked for the Palm Beach County School District as an educator for 28 years, and the Kennedy Space Center field trip was one of the best experiences the students could encounter. When I saw that the Jacobs family funded the entire VIP Kennedy Space Center trip for advanced high school students, I could not help but smile. The trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of the participants. Many of my students would never have had the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge from professionals in the field.
As a math and science teacher working at Wellington Elementary School, I sometimes felt confined by the Sunshine State Standards and the FCAT requirements. Prior to moving to Wellington, I worked as a primary teacher in Illinois for 10 years. As the standardized testing grew more prevalent in the design of my curriculum in Florida, I began to long for the creativity and ingenuity Illinois had offered. It is trips like the one the Jacobs funded that make teaching enjoyable, and it puts the fun back into learning math, science and its relevance in the “real world.”
When I accompanied my students on the trip, I was able to watch them gain a greater appreciation of the talent, dedication, hard work and preparation that goes into conducting NASA’s human spaceflight program. Not only were they introduced to an experienced shuttle astronaut, but they also were able to ask questions and get his perspective on space flight, as well as the specific mission that he flew.
Occasionally we watch our students sit at their desks and stare vacantly into space. Many times I was questioning whether my time was making a difference in their lives. The VIP Kennedy Space Center trip seemingly opened their eyes. They were full of excitement, dreams and a new sense of creativity.
The students were able to take geometry and math to a new level with truss building. It was a fun and creative project, which not only taught teamwork but also applied relevance to what they had learned on paper. They were presented with examples of trusses from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to some used at the International Space Station. They examined the stresses on such structures and the strengths of their designs. Testing was accomplished by adding weight to each truss, and the team whose truss withstood the most was the winner.
The students took a guided tour of the Astronaut Hall of Fame Museum, and using the information they had learned in history, applied the different missions such as Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle programs. The interactivity continued with students discovering how shuttles are launched, as well as how humans survive in the vacuum of space.
Making a smile stretch across a student’s face is one of the most difficult things for an educator to accomplish, and also one of the most rewarding feelings I could describe. As students experienced the motion-based simulators such as the Multi-Axis Trainer and the Trajector Chair, it was clear that this experience would be forever engraved in their minds.
I would like to thank the Jacobs family with all my heart for providing upper-level classmen with a similar and even more extensive opportunity to what my students had. With the right group of teachers and students, this trip is one for the books! The community should recognize the generosity of this gesture, and understand the joy of applied teaching and learning in a setting such as the Kennedy Space Center.