Thursday, August 2, 2018

Go for Launch

Me in my flight suit
This summer, I lived out my childhood fantasy of attending Space Camp. While most people think of Space Camp as a prize for childhood game shows, they also host a series of Space Academy for Educator programs every summer.

Saturn V on Display
Space Camp is everything I imagined and more. Hosted in Huntsville, Alabama at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. If the camp program wasn't amazing, the museums were. Tucked away in Alabama are some of the most historical NASA items I've ever seen. Some of the amazing artifacts on display included the Apollo 16 capsule, the Mobile Quarantine Facility (Airstream trailer) from Apollo 11, a Saturn V rocket, and more.

Throughout the week, we had a combination of lectures, engineering challenges, and time to speak with other teachers about best practices for the classrooms. I highly recommend looking into the program for any teachers looking for an out of the world experience. I funded my tuition through but I also know that there are other scholarship programs available. Honeywell sends hundreds of teachers each year to specialty sponsored weeks.
Homer H. Hickam Jr. Launch Pad
My favorite lecture of the week was meeting one of my childhood idols, Homer Hickam. His memoir, Rocket Boys, became the movie October Sky. That's right, I met the man who inspired my love of model rocketry and got to launch a model rocket from the official Homer Hickam launch pad. When I asked him what advice he'd give to students that are interested in rocketry, he said he'd give the same advice his mother gave him when he expressed his interest in rocket science, "Don't blow yourself up."
Posing with Homer Hickam
While many of us have done egg drops with students over the years, Space Camp showed me another amazing egg-stranut experiment to complete with students: creating a heat shield. I think one of the most interesting aspects of each engineering challenge we completed was that they didn't ignore the cost of supplies. For each project we were given a fictional budget and supply cost list. Part of the scoring rubric included project cost and success of protecting the egg. I love the cross curriculum involvement here because it opens up projects to more classrooms and subject areas.

Helicopter Crash Simulator and Zip-line
The final aspect of Space Academy was the physical challenges. From team building activities at Area 51 to simulated crashes at the lake, we experienced it all. I even served as mission control for a mission to Mars. I found the entire week to be non-stop excitement and learning and had a great time.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Mass School Shootings: When Will They End?

Time Magazine
May 3, 1999
The world I grew up in was very different. I grew up with sever weather drills, not active shooter drills. Then, in April 1999 the world changed. Two high school students walked into their school and opened fire. To an eighth grader none of this made sense. I think it was even harder for our parents because most of them dealt with a fear of nuclear warfare, not home-grown dangers. Columbine was an anomaly. This type of thing didn't happen and it definitely wasn't normal.

Our school didn't change overnight; students came in the next day and while everyone was talking about the "news" in the hallway, classes continued as always. A week later a letter went home stating that due to an increase in scoliosis, backpacks would no longer be allowed in the school. No one even questioned the timing of this letter however the next year when we were suddenly allowed clear or mesh bags confusion set in. The letter turned out to be a way to ban bags where weapons could be hidden without scaring the community. The school board was beginning to take precautions to prevent the same thing from happening in our neighborhood.

Since Columbine, school shootings have increased at an alarming rate. Now, almost twenty years later school shootings are sadly a common occurrence. I currently work in a school building that was designed to be active shooter ready. The windows are bullet resistant and the doors are designed to let people out but not in without a key. Active shooter drills teach students how to search out the safest hiding place in the event of a shooting. Teachers are trained to help keep those students calm while we are honestly just as scared.

So what can we do? There is more than one issue at play and honestly I think we need to look at this from all sides. The two major issues that come to light every time a tragedy happens are gun control and mental health. I don't want to get political on this blog post so I won't write my opinion on the two topics but I do think they need to be discussed by the politicians. We can't just continue to ignore them and hope the violence ends.

I'm proud of the students in Parkland and across the nation for not just hiding but turning this tragedy into a catalyst for change. I support their efforts no matter what the end result becomes.

Hiding Behind a Screen: The Reality of Cyber Bullying

Did you know that there are people that actually have nothing better to do with their time and insult others on the internet? We are trying to teach our students about cyber bullying and how to prevent it, but the reality is we can't prevent it. Sometimes the cyber bullies are strangers that you've never met.

Screenshot of Wheel of Fortune
November 2, 2017
For example, I was recently a contestant on a national game show. Admit it, you've seen it by now. The show is not live and I had filmed back in August before the school year began. On November 2nd, I gathered my friends at the local Chili's (thanks for hooking my school with 15% back). We had a great party and even had the local news out to cover the fundraiser (sadly, it didn't air).

After the episode aired, my phone started going berserk with congratulatory posts on social media and text messages.

The problem is, while I won a good amount of money and was surrounded by family and friends, my brain decided to focus on the negative. I couldn't believe that people I never met before were saying such mean things about me and my fellow contestants. Here are just a few of my "favorite" Tweets from the night of my episode. I blurred out the names to protect the bullies, but this is what my mind focused on instead of the positives of winning.

First of all, anyone that knows me will admit I am a naturally loud person. That's just me in general and is helpful when I need students to hear me from the other side of the room. However, at Wheel of Fortune the contestant coordinators spend the morning pepping you up. "Loud" and "Louder" are heard may times during the practice rounds. It's their way of helping to encourage the excitement and reduce the nervous whispers. They remind you that when solving a puzzle, you need to read it loud, slow, and pronounce each word carefully.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wasn't enjoying my victory because of these complete strangers. I was allowing them to consume my thoughts, and why? This is what we are constantly teaching our students about but for some reason, the fact that it was strangers made it worse.

So how can we help our students deal with cyber bullying? Perhaps we should just be real with them. Students often look at teachers through rose colored glasses, not as actual human beings. We need to relate to students so that when we offer antidote stories and advice they understand where it's coming from. We can also teach students to think before they post. We are all guilty of it; posting in the heat of the moment and then looking back "why'd I post that?" Perhaps show students how to save in draft mode, wait a few minutes (or until the next day), and then re-read before posting.

I'm sure there are tons of things we can do to help the victims, accidental bullies, and actual bullies. The first step is opening the dialogue.