Having a blast …off!

10 Jefferson teachers walked on air while at space camp

Dan Benson
Sheboygan Press

Ten teachers from Jefferson Elementary School have returned to Earth after a week at NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala, and are starting the new school year looking to launch new classroom initiatives using what they learned there.

“We gathered a lot of information we’ll be able to use in our classrooms this year. …For years to come, actually,” said second-grade teacher Deb Ericsson.

Jefferson school reading specialist Ann Rodewald completed her tour of the Davidson Center for Space Exploration by studying the restored Saturn V rocket.

The 10 teachers attended Space Camp for one week in early August, thanks to a $10,000 Wisconsin Fund for Teachers grant. They could have applied to go somewhere else, Ericsson said.

The teachers became eligible to apply for the grant after Jefferson was recognized as a 2009 Wisconsin New Promise School, which is given to schools that demonstrate a learning climate that supports all students.

“We chose Space Camp because of what’s happening at Spaceport in Sheboygan and we don’t really do anything with space science at the elementary level,” she said. “And this experience allowed for 10 of us to go. Some others would only allow us to send one or two. Being able to send 10 allowed us to make it a building-wide experience.”

That means students at every grade level will benefit from what the teachers learned and are bringing back.

“I learned so many new applications that I can use in my classroom. I plan to incorporate new ideas to help young learners understand big ideas,” said Jeanine Roseberry, an ELL kindergarten teacher.

“During the week I attended Space Camp, I thought of ways I could integrate space science activities into the art classroom,” said art teacher Connie Berken.

At Space Camp, the 10 teachers put in 45 hours in various activities that included astronaut training simulators and two simulated space shuttle missions. They performed the duties of flight director, pilot, mission specialists and members of mission control, they said.

“I’m amazed at everything that has to happen in order for a successful launch, mission and safe return to Earth to occur,” said second-grade teacher Julie Versey.

Hundreds of students from all over the country were there, but just 33 teachers, Ericsson said, making the Sheboygan contingent the largest by far.

“We were a huge part of it,” she said.

The teachers brought back materials they can use in their classrooms, resources such as websites and a list of contacts whose knowledge and expertise they can tap into, Ericsson said.

“Many of them are other educators around the United States and even around the world — Australia and Morocco, for instance,” she said. “We’ve set up Facebook accounts where we can continue the conversation and learn how they are using what they took back to their buildings.”

Fifth-grade teacher, Vicki Kulhanek said, “This experience demonstrated what is needed to be done in our classrooms to pique students’ interest in these areas.”

An all-school “space event” is in the works for next May, Ericsson said, and plans call for making a trip to the next space shuttle launch in June 2011 in Florida, she said.

“Our hope is to use our experiences at Space Camp to motivate our students to be future scientists, engineers and astronauts,” Ericsson said.