Alison Thammavongsa has taken summer trips to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., to complete “missions” and workshops for the last two years, but she isn’t an astronaut. She’s a Peoria science teacher.
“If I could be an astronaut, I would,” she said.
Thammavongsa participated in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program last year and completed the advanced program, open to only 28 teachers worldwide, in June, and will bring her knowledge back to her classroom at Parkridge Elementary School in Peoria.
“I was able to incorporate a lot into my classroom,” Thammavongsa said about last year’s program, and she hopes to do the same, if not more, this year.
For her seventh-grade students, the space unit is their favorite, she said, outranking other state standard units like rocks and minerals, ecosystems, and earthquakes and volcanoes.
Thammavongsa taught her space unit last November and December, and the students enjoyed assignments such as an egg drop project in which where they created a space shuttle and parachute before dropping it off the school stairs.
“Going to the space camp motivated me as a teacher and incorporated new ideas that really gets the kids excited,” she said. “Kids really have a curiosity for space and they want to know more.”
Created in partnership with the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in 2004, the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program is designed to help teachers move beyond the standard math and science curriculum with supplemental teaching techniques developed through real-life astronaut training.
In the advanced program Thammavongsa recently attended, she and other teachers worked on more missions, including a scuba diving exercise, but Thammavongsa’s favorite part was a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The space shuttle Atlantis was on the launch pad at Kennedy when Thammavongsa and the rest of the group visited, which was especially special to Thammavongsa because her students have a science experiment on the effects of gravity on yeast on board the shuttle.
Thammavongsa worked on mission to create a robot using LEGOs during this summer’s program, as well, and in the future, she would hope to have her students work on a similar project.
“That would be my next goal,” she said, but securing funding for the project could be difficult, and might take a couple years.
One of the best aspects of the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy programs, Thammavongsa said, is interacting with the other teachers from around the country and around the world, and getting teaching ideas from them.
Thammavongsa first learned about the program from another teacher in her district who had participated, and she hopes other teachers will apply for the program as well.
Each Honeywell Educator receives a full scholarship following a rigorous application and selection process involving competing teachers from around the world. Scholarships include tuition for the six-day program, round-trip airfare, meals, accommodation and program materials, all underwritten by Honeywell and contributions from Honeywell employees.