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Teachers play aimed at getting tots interested in science

January 26, 2010
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About 25 educators spent a couple of days this week engaged in such activities as building robotic arms out of tongue depressors and simple circuits that set off flashing UFO balls.

They watched clouds and saw videos about how toys created on Earth behave in the microgravity of space.

They had a lot of fun.

Now they’ll head back to classrooms where they teach preschool, kindergarten and first and second grade and see if they can start a new generation on the path to science literacy.

That’s the goal of a new PreK-2 teacher training program piloted this week in Colorado Springs by the U.S. Space Foundation. The foundation also ran a two-day pilot program in December in Maryland, said Bryan DeBates, senior aerospace education specialist for the foundation.

“We use space to get kids excited about learning,” he said. “There’s not a lot of curriculum for these teachers, so instead of trying to find it, we decided to make it.”

The focus on young students complements the foundation’s summer teacher institute that has been offering Space Across the Curriculum classes for many years. The first week-long class for preschool and early elementary school teachers will be offered in June at the foundation’s Space Foundation Discovery Institute, adjacent to Swigert Aerospace Academy.

“It has to be a continuous pipeline of hands-on learning as kids go through school,” DeBates said. “We’ve got to make it exciting for kids.”

De Washington, science supervisor for Omaha Public Schools, said the earlier students get interested in science the more likely they’ll be ready for courses they encounter in eighth grade and up, the time when many now lose interest in the subject.

Washington, who worked with the Space Foundation last summer to bring training courses to teachers and students in Omaha, attended the pilot program with two elementary curriculum specialists to see if it could be used in some form in Omaha schools.

“This is sound curriculum,” Washington said. “But bringing something like this into 53 elementary schools is a monumental task.

“I’m all about the possibility of adding some things to what they already are doing.”

Several teachers from The Classical Academy charter school in Academy School District 20 attended the free pilot program and said they, too, can add much of what they learned into lessons.

“I would use at least parts of everything I learned,” said Nebbi Hayden, a second-grade teacher at TCA.

Her colleague, Marty Witzel, said after watching clouds with the group Monday she signed up with a NASA project that provides satellite photos of cloud formations over her school.

Her curriculum includes lessons on clouds and weather and now when she teaches it the kids can look at the clouds from below and then view satellite photos from above, Witzel said.

She also liked the robotic arm experiment, in which the teachers built a device that could pick up a ping pong ball.

“I already told my husband that he had to drill the holes in the sticks so the kids can make them,” she said.

Call the writer at 636-0251.

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