Maria Chambers remembers watching TV when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all crew members including teacher Christa McAuliffe.
“I remember being really upset,” she said.
Now Chambers, 29, is a fourth and fifth grade science teacher at Stratton Meadows Elementary School in Harrison School District 2.
She is one of 51 teachers nationwide and the only one in Colorado to receive the competitive Endeavor Fellowship from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The fellowship program is dedicated to the Challenger crew.
Under the program, she will earn a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) certificate through Columbia University’s teachers college. The 18 months of course work began in January and is done with live online sessions. It is funded through NASA’s Office of Education and implemented through the U.S. Satellite Laboratory.
Endeavor brings NASA and STEM content to a school’s curriculum, said Shelley Canright, manager of elementary, secondary and e-education at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. “The educators represent many of our nation’s future leaders in science, mathematics and technology education.”
What Chambers learns will be used in the classroom to encourage students to become scientists, engineers and astronauts, a goal of U.S. education in recent years.
About 95 percent of Stratton Meadows students are impoverished.
“I really want to motivate students to go into STEM careers, to inspire them that they can do it no matter what, when they grow up,” Chambers said. “I think it is really important for kids, to know that they can achieve if given the tools.”
Recently her classes studied data analysis, and she had students create paper rockets, launch them with straws and measure distances.
“It’s that kind of hands on education that they really like.”
Chambers has been a teacher for six years, four of them in D-2. She has an undergraduate degree in elementary education, and master’s degree in English as second language from Auburn University.
She said her interest in science didn’t jell until college. “Now I’m fascinated about space, the planets, that we are part of something bigger. And I’m thrilled that maybe my students will be astronauts and engineers.”
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