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At Space Academy, teachers learn to help students reach for the stars

Bridget Heneghan sixth-grade science teacher Hibbard Elementary School Chicago says first day school this year she'll be sporting blue flight

Bridget Heneghan, a sixth-grade science teacher at Hibbard Elementary School in Chicago, says on the first day of school this year, she'll be sporting a blue flight suit she brought hom from Space Academy. | Photo courtesy of Honeywell Hometown Solutions

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Updated: July 24, 2014 6:11AM

Bridget Heneghan, a Chicago teacher, already has her outfit planned for the first day of school in September.

She’ll be wearing the royal blue flight suit she brought home from Space Academy.

Heneghan, a sixth-grade science teacher at Hibbard Elementary School, was among about 200 teachers awarded free trips through the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy scholarship program, which helped them get training fit for an astronaut.

That included seven Illinois middle-school teachers, including two from Chicago Public Schools, who attended Space Academy at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Alabama for a five-day, astronaut-style training program as part of a larger effort to increase students’ interest in science-related careers.

“Inspiring students starts with inspiring teachers,” said Kerry Kennedy, director of communications for Honeywell Hometown Solutions, which sponsors the scholarship program. We “want to help support these teachers to inspire their students and get them excited to learn about [space science] and understand that there are great careers out there.”

In the past 10 years, Honeywell Hometown Solutions has given free trips to Space Academy to about 2,000 teachers.

Teachers attend five-day sessions in June. Each includes exercises similar to what astronauts do.

In one activity the teachers use a helo dunker — a large metal barrel that is submerged in water. A group of six go inside the dunker for a simulated crash-landing. The group must escape from the dunker and swim out to safety.

Heneghan had to communicate with her teammates and rely on them to escape. She wants to bring that sort of problem-solving activity — without the dunker, of course — to her students.

Heneghan also took on the role of a NASA employee and helped switch out scientists during a lunar mission simulation. And she got a chance to sit in the multi-access trainer — it looks sort of like a giant gyroscope — where she was flipped around until she was nauseated.

“Anything that can get a teacher to act like a little kid, that’s the kind of energy you want to be bringing to the classroom,” Heneghan said.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the United States ranks 25th in math and 17th in science among industrialized nations, which is part of the reason Honeywell wanted to start the program.

Melanie Mudarth, science curriculum facilitator at Evanston/Skokie School District 65, was inspired by Space Academy to plan an astronomy boot camp for teachers at her school.

“The whole idea is to continue [the students’] excitement and engagement about science,” Mudarth said.

At week’s end, there was a graduation ceremony and teachers went home to create some new lesson plans.

“Good teachers continue to learn,” Mudarth said. “When we take some time to go learn something on our own we can bring it back to the classroom so we can make it a more exciting place for our students.”

Applications for the 2015 program will be available on the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy’s website in September.


Twitter: @mlespana

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