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Space and Rocket Center's space camp fun, informative for teachers

Space camps aren't just for kids — adults get a kick out of them, too. • Last month, more than 250 teachers from around the world attended astronaut training at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. • In the mix: teachers from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. For 12 days, the teachers donned space suits, floated in the air and relived childhood dreams in the Space Academy program sponsored by Honeywell International, a technology company. • The timing was bittersweet, teachers said, as NASA ends its space shuttle program this month with a mission by Atlantis. • Hillsborough teacher Corey Peloquin hopes that it is a temporary setback in space exploration. "So many technologies evolved from the space program. NASA programs touched every single person, they helped improve our quality of life, so it's not just outer space exploration but so many things," he said. • The Times talked to Peloquin and other Tampa Bay teachers about their time at the Space Academy.

Micheal P. Floyd Jr., 57, Tampa

Clair-Mel Elementary, Tampa

A retired military man, Floyd yearned to do something that reminded him of "home."

After spending 32 years in the Army — 14 on active duty and 18 as a reservist — Floyd likes things planned and punctual.

It took him four tries to get accepted to Honeywell's Space Academy program. When the letter came this year, he was elated.

"I want to see how far I can go and where it will take me," Floyd said. "It was just really fantastic. They kept us occupied, busy and awake."

The schedule was relentless, said Floyd, filled with field trips, assignments, simulations. "They kept us actively busy just like a regular astronaut," he said. "It challenges me because I want to go back to something that is military-like and regimented."

Floyd began teaching while he was in the military reserves. He taught social studies and U.S. history in middle school and high school, and now teaches reading, writing, math and science to fifth-graders at Clair-Mel Elementary.

While at space camp, Floyd met and exchanged knowledge with teachers from all over the world.

He was impressed at how the teachers from India were able to call out a radius and cut perfect circles out of sheets of paper. In turn, he showed them how to figure out the lift of crude rockets by proportioning water and oxygen in a cylinder.

When they asked him how he knew to do that, his reply was simple: "I learned that in military."

Floyd said he can't wait to show off the stuff he learned in space camp to his students next year, especially DNA extraction with simple household ingredients such as dishwashing soap, salt water and rubbing alcohol.

"The possibilities are endless, once you start a child down biological sciences," he said. "A child is able to expand his imagination far beyond the earth, and I want to inspire a child to be more than the sum of his or her parts."

Corey Peloquin, 29, Seffner

Teacher mentor, Hillsborough County School District

When Peloquin moved to Florida from Connecticut to study marine biology at Eckerd College, he didn't know he was going to end up teaching — or become a space geek.

He fell into teaching by mistake, after a college adviser told him to give it a try, Peloquin said.

Then, in his first year of teaching, a colleague turned him on to space. She had gone to space camp and encouraged him to apply.

"I felt weak in that area of science. It wasn't a true passion of mine, and whether it showed in the classroom I don't know. But I felt the need to brush up," said Peloquin. "I instantly fell in love with everything the program was about."

That was 2009, when Peloquin went to his first Honeywell-sponsored space camp. Following that, he enrolled in the NASA Endeavor Science Teaching Certificate Project.

Even then, Peloquin couldn't get enough. So he applied to go to space camp again this year, to attend the advanced program.

"I learned tons," he said. "It's the best professional development program I ever had."

As a teacher mentor who coaches first-year high school teachers in Hillsborough County schools, Peloquin enjoyed meeting and trading ideas with his peers from around the country and world.

"Teachers don't have time for that during the regular school day," said Peloquin, who has taught in middle school. "Hearing what teachers are doing, sharing ideas, that's real valuable."

Peloquin has kept in touch with his teammates from space camp as well. Over the years, they have visited Peloquin and together they have gone to Titusville to see launches. They are set do the same today, when Atlantis is scheduled to soar into space for the last time.

Mark Gasvoda, 46, Tampa

Gorrie Elementary, Tampa

Mark Gasvoda had done many things in his life to make a living.

He had been in the Coast Guard, a paralegal, a technician for CarMax, a clothing import executive.

But teaching math and science to elementary school students seems to be the best fit.

"For me teaching science is very natural for me," said the 46-year-old.

"I just have a lot of natural curiosity and interest. And the kids pick up on the excitement and everything."

Space camp just took that up a notch. Gasvoda said he picked up on several great ideas that he is eager to share with students — such as creating constellations from their names.

"It invigorates you, especially when you are around other teachers," said the Ohio native. "As a teacher, you sometimes don't realize how isolated you are."

Karen Stewart, 46, Lutz

Charles S. Rushe Middle School, Land O'Lakes

Stewart is a veteran teacher — and a veteran space camper.

It's easy to be into space exploration when you grow up in Florida, Stewart said.

"You can see shuttle launches from here … it's a huge part of living in Florida," Stewart said. "I've always been fascinated by just looking up in the sky. It's something I am passionate about."

As a teacher, she has taken students on numerous field trips to the Kennedy Space Center. She attended a parent-child space camp with her son when he was younger, and even won a trip from Northrop Grumman to go on a zero-gravity flight four years ago.

So the Honeywell Space Academy in Huntsville, was a natural progression. Despite the 14-hour days she put in during the camp, Stewart said she had a blast.

"Just when you thought they couldn't top the last thing, and they managed to top the last thing," she said.

Stewart, who is also Pasco schools' co-director for science and helps put on science fairs for students, now has two space suits to show for her stints in these camps.

She credited the corporations who are investing in bringing these programs to teachers so they can inspire students to pursue interests in STEM, short for science, technology, engineering and math.

"It's amazing, the trickle effect," Stewart said. "It's amazing to see the effect not only on kids but the parents, too."

Such interest is crucial to the longevity of the country's space program, she said. After all, her students will be the next generation of space explorers.

"When we talk about going to Mars, it will be someone from this age," Stewart said.

Mark Dosmann, 52, New Port Richey

Chasco Middle School, Port Richey

As a former forester, Dosmann never thought he would end up teaching in middle school — or going to space camp.

As a kid, Dosmann, 52, was a fan of science fiction and even wrote school reports on NASA, but never wanted to be an astronaut because bad eyesight seems to run in his family.

"My understanding was, to really become astronaut, you have to start flying in the military first," he said. "It was very difficult and something I was never able to do. … So I did not think much about it."

Even then, during his career at the U.S. Forest Service and the Nature Conservancy, he has always tended toward training his peers.

"I'm always migrating toward the teaching end of it," he said. "So when the time came for me to try something else, I naturally ended up there."

Dosmann is certified to teach sixth- to 12th-grade biology, and he landed his first teaching job at Chasco Middle.

"I really enjoy this age group," he said.

The timing of going to space camp in Huntsville, coincided with the space curriculum Dosmann will be teaching his eighth-graders next year.

"That's another reason why I wanted to get to space camp now, we are going into space exploration," he said.

While at camp, Dosmann met former NASA engineer and author Homer Hickam, whose novel Rocket Boys was turned into the movie October Sky.

Dosmann wonders how he can incorporate the novel into his lesson plans and how he can use such materials to collaborate with other teachers.

Keeping interest in space alive among his students is crucial, he thinks, even if NASA is cutting out manned space flights.

"I don't know where space travel is headed, I don't know if anybody does," he said. "The Chinese are expected to be on the moon by 2013, and I have a hard time believing that China will be there and we won't. … The kids I am teaching now will have to deal with all that."

CherylAnn Tish, 50, St. Petersburg

Meadowlawn Middle School, St. Petersburg

When Tish sent her children to space camp roughly a decade ago, they had such a great time — she wished she could have gone, too.

This year, her wish came true.

The science teacher and mother of three experienced zero-gravity, extracted fruit DNA, learned about thermal protection and escaped from a helicopter that "crashed" under water.

Not bad for a 50-year-old, she laughed. "I thought it was going to be a blast and it was."

She never would have dreamed of having such an experience, Tish said, if she hadn't become a teacher.

A dental hygienist for 25 years, Tish was inspired by the teachers who helped her children when they had a hard time in middle school.

"I thought I'd pay back," said Tish. "My kids didn't like the social aspect of middle school, and they struggled in their academic careers. That's why I want to teach."

She returned to school and earned her teaching degrees. The Detroit native moved with her family to St. Petersburg eight years ago to start her new career.

Tish said the astronaut training provided her with materials she hopes will help her instill in students a love of learning. "Kids know when you are really excited about stuff," she said. "Simply being a more knowledgeable teacher is a tremendous help."

Jennifer Thomas, 26

Grace Lutheran School, St. Petersburg

Since third grade, Thomas toyed with the idea of becoming an astronaut.

But slowly, the dream became a blur: Thomas has motion sickness so she thought she would never make it.

Then came her stint at the space camp and it has rekindled all sorts of possibilities.

"This experience poured gasoline all over me," Thomas said. "I get to see what's still out there and now I think that maybe I can still do this. I seriously gave up the dream because I thought I couldn't handle it, but maybe I can."

In one of the activities, Thomas was one of four people tasked to assemble a device during a space mission simulation.

"We did simulated space walks, and we got to put on these white jumpsuits and helmets," she said. "It's like you were repairing something outside the space shuttle."

Even though NASA is scuttling its space shuttle program, Thomas wants her students to still dream about space exploration.

There is so much out there," she said. "I hope and pray that these kids think that it is important to keep the interest alive and to keep exploring out there because there is just so much we don't know."

Laura Munson, 27, Largo

Imagine School at Palmer Ranch, Sarasota

Laura Munson loves rockets.

It started with her dad, and a newspaper story about how he built one with his friends and blew up her grandmother’s basement.

“He still has scars from it,” she laughed.

While at the Honeywell space camp, she met her longtime hero, former NASA engineer Homer Hickam, who wrote “Rocket Boys.” In the book, Hickam described how he blew up his mother’s fence while trying to launch a rocket.

Munson got to launch her own rocket at camp, during a group project. Of course, there was a slight mishap.

“Our group shot the rocket, but it never came down,” said the 27-year-old graduate of St. Petersburg College. “We didn’t know where it went so we said it went into space.”

Her love for rockets trickled down to her students, too.

Last year, while teaching at Imagine School at Lakewood Ranch, she got her students to build rockets and to write up a business plan with a budget for the labor and materials it took to construct a projectile.

Space camp boosted her creativity, Munson said. Just this week, she’s taught a group at an Imagine School summer camp how to build parachutes.

The possibilities of what she can teach are endless, Munson said. Just like space.

Space and Rocket Center's space camp fun, informative for teachers 07/07/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 8, 2011 4:26pm]
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