Professional Learning
Space Academy for Educators Take Aways
August 5, 2016
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Debbie Hickerson

In July I had the privilege of attending Space Academy for Educators (STEM focused) at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  What an adventure!  I had no idea how these four days would change me both as a teacher and a learner.  So while it is all still fresh, I thought it would be good for me to record my big take-aways from the grueling 14-hour days spent at camp.  Like childbirth, time softens your memory.

image03Take Away 1:  Expect to stay busy.  There’s great pride in hard work well done.

First, there’s a reason why you leave with 35 PD hours: you start the day at 7:00 a.m. and end the day at 9:00 p.m. with 30 minutes built in the schedule for meals.  Maybe this is the reason you don’t receive a schedule until you arrive?  We were informed on the very first morning, “There’s no tired like Space Camp tired.”  It’s true.  I ended the first day wondering if I had gotten too old for this, or if my energy-packed multivitamin would ever kick in.  The chatter on the bus that was there on the morning rides in certainly had settled down on the bus rides back after dark.

Take Away 2:  No man is an island, teamwork is key, and don’t leave anyone out.

Each day was filled with challenges that made me wonder if I was smart enough to be there. I learned that it’s okay if you don’t understand everything going on, though, because someone else on your team will.  We spent most of our class time in the Marshall Education building for most STEM challenges, and this room was filled with Alphas.  Everyone wanted to work on a team, but most of them expected to be the brains behind the project.  People who are more laid back, like me, had to get pretty loud to be heard over all the ideas being tossed around.  I have to say, though, this was a very creative bunch.  No slackers here. 

Take Away 3:  Learn all that you can from each other.image00

I always learn something new and interesting when talking with other teachers, especially from other states.  We all have our struggles within our schools, districts, and states, but I learn and grow when I hear teachers talk with so much modesty about the amazing things they are doing every day in their classrooms.  These teachers inspired me to try new things I would have never even thought of (i.e., Troy and his after school robotics club in Iowa, Ashley and her soda bottle ecosystems from found materials on her school campus in Tennessee).

Take Away 4:  Pay attention and follow directions.  

The simulated Mission to the International Space Station was a major focus for the camp.  Everyone depended on communication from all other areas.  We wanted to have fun, and we were encouraged by the camp counselors to rely on our training and relax, but every teacher in the Mission Control room—whether piloting the spacecraft or acting as scientists/astronauts—took this as seriously as though were were actually in flight.  This group of obvious overachievers was desperate to get our astronauts to their destination and safely home.  Problem-solving was the name of the game here.


I left Space Academy for Educators with a deeper appreciation for NASA and all that they have achieved over the years.  I also understand why it takes years to make a mission come to fruition.  Viewing the actual Saturn V that traveled to the moon while on a docent tour with a retired NASA engineer was absolutely priceless.  Having an astronaut in the room, giving first-hand experience of his time in orbit, just left me speechless.

For those of us who thought NASA wasn’t doing anything anymore since the space exploration program lost its funding a few years ago, boy, were we wrong!  Being treated as an elite group, we received a tour of some of the NASA buildings in Huntsville and actually saw in live time the astronauts at work on the International Space Station while visiting the Payload Operations Center.  Did you realize the ISS orbits the Earth every 90 minutes?  Or that you can apply for your students to talk with them as they fly over your school?  I had no idea that was even possible!

The common thread that I notice in all of my takeaways, is that these are the same things we try as educators to emphasize to our students.  Work together, don’t leave anyone out, learn from each other, be proud of your hard work, pay attention, follow directions!  How many times a day to you say at least one of those? 

I cherish this experience and can’t thank the other teachers enough for all that they taught me as well as the camp counselors for challenging us to step outside of our comfort zones.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will never take for granted.  

To learn more about NASA, check out their website:

With twenty years of teaching experience, Debbie holds a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood and Elementary Education, a Master of Education as a Reading Specialist, and an Educational Specialist degree in Administration and Supervision from Middle Tennessee State University. A former President of the Murfreesboro Education Association, Debbie currently serves on the National Advisory Board for Scholastic, is a Mentor Teacher for MTSU’s MTeach Program, a judge for CODiE Awards of the Software & Information Industry Association, is on the Member Advisory Panel for the National Education Association and has written numerous grants totaling more than $10,000 during her teaching career. Debbie is actively involved in The Last Minute Toy Store, Haiti Relief, Feed the Hunger, and Blue Raider Athletic Association. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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