Area teachers attend STARBASE Academy workshop

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt Sherree Grebenstein
  • 167th Airlift Wing
How would you fair flying a Cessna 182 light aircraft on a six-minute hop from one airport to another with little time behind the yoke? 

Twenty-six teachers from around the Eastern Panhandle and Frederick County, Va., recently got a chance to find out. Logging time on a flight simulator was one of an array of hands-on activities offered to elementary and middle school educators at the 21st Century in the Classroom Teacher's Academy. 

The week-long workshop held July 13-17 - which featured activities focusing on science, technology, engineering and math skills (STEM) - was hosted by the Martinsburg STARBASE at the 167th Airlift Wing. 

The teachers who attended the workshop as a continuing education course not only got credit through Shepherd University for their efforts, but also learned many of the same lessons taught to fifth-graders who attend the federally-funded STARBASE program during the school year. 

All fifth-graders in Berkeley County attend STARBASE for a week, learning a challenging core curriculum geared toward STEM activities, everything from Newton's Laws of Motion to model rocketry. County-wide, about 1,500 students ages 9 to 11 attend STARBASE during the school year. 

Sherra Triggs, the program director for the Martinsburg STARBASE, said the workshop allows teachers the opportunity to take the principles they have learned and customize them to their own classroom lessons. This in turn allows students as early as first-graders to be exposed to the importance of STEM activities. 

"This workshop shows that you can fit science, technology, engineering and math into any subject matter," Triggs said. "It's a well-rounded workshop program." 

The only limits are the teachers' imaginations, she said. 

Triggs said teachers can bring stories to life by incorporating such skills as math and science to help illustrate a lesson. 

"You can always find a way to talk about math," Triggs said. "If you are innovative enough you can find a way to fit (STEM activities) into anything." 

"Many of my kids come here," said Nicole Krause, a fifth-grade teacher at Orchard View Intermediate School in Martinsburg. 

Krause said her students look forward to attending STARBASE and she was happy to be able to find out firsthand the activities which make the program so popular. 

"They love it," she said, noting that she'll be able to take the lessons she's learned back to her own classroom and teach them throughout the school year. 

Last Friday, Todd I. Ensign, program manager for the Educator Resource Center NASA IV & V Facility based at Fairmont State University, schooled teachers at the workshop on the fine art of using a Global Positioning System. 

Teachers were sent on a mini-field trip outside the walls of the STARBASE Academy to determine the size of the earth using a GPS. Ensign said 40,000 kilometers is the polar circumference of the earth, the magic number the NASA instructor hoped teachers would discover and bring back. 

Holding a GPS in her hand, Erin Sponaugle, a fifth-grade teacher from Tomahawk Intermediate School in Hedgesville, said the activities offered during the week-long workshop were very interesting and she intended on incorporating them into some of her lesson plans. 

And she wouldn't have to look far if she wanted to borrow some GPSs. 

Under an equipment loan program, the NASA education outreach program can provide free the tools needed for lessons as long as the teachers are trained on them. 

Tracey Parks, a fifth-grade teacher at Tomahawk Intermediate School, said the hands-on activities and other challenges posed by the workshop tested their scientific abilities. 

One activity had the teachers designing a heat shield using wire mesh and aluminum foil to create a thermal protection system for the future Ares spacecraft which is expected to take man back to the moon. 

"We will test their models to failure," Ensign said, explaining how he would take a torch heated to 1,000-degrees Fahrenheit to see which creation could withstand the high temperature which simulated reentry into the earth's atmosphere. 

"Four minutes is the duration of reentry," he said. "We'll heat them up until they glow."
Another NASA-generated activity Friday had teachers designing a thrust structure model for a rocket made from wooden craft sticks. The object was to make the device as light as possible and have it survive three launches. 

"I've had a blast," said Mary Beth Green, a fourth-grade teacher from Orchard View Intermediate School. 

Adding: "This is one of the best workshops I have ever attended."