A trip to Space Camp was the realisation of a dream for Brisbane educator Peter Rolandsen.
Being able to use his new found knowledge to improve his own teaching practices and inspire students is the next stage of the journey.
The Indooroopilly State High School teacher of Queensland-based subject Aerospace Studies ventured to the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama earlier this year.
Space Camp refers to both the actual encampment and a family of related residential and day camp programs offered year-round by the facility for adults, children and teachers.
Themes include space oriented programs, an Aviation Challenge and outdoor oriented X-Camp, with the intent to promote science, engineering, aviation and exploration.
Rolandsen - who teaches Year 10 to 12 students - earned his trip after receiving second prize in the Aerospace Studies Teacher and Innovator Award, run by the Aerospace Gateway Schools project.
As well as experiencing the moon rocks, rockets, capsules, space travel simulator and astronaut training, came a dedicated Mars Activities and Classroom lesson plan resource booklet and a Building the Coolest X-ray Satellite video guide for teachers.
‘A large amount of what was done at Space Camp is reflected in the [Aerospace] syllabus,' Rolandsen says. 'Space Camp gave us various activities we can do with the students, like survivability in Mars, which the Americans are aiming to do by 2024 and set up a colony there.
'As a result of [my mission to Huntsville], classroom learning will be much more activity-based rather than theoretical - things like survivability, the history of space flight, the equipment used ... and I will expand on the NASA material to make lesson plans more interesting for the students.'
Research from the US has estimated 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations require a strong background in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Here, Chief Scientist Ian Chubb recently highlighted the fact that Australian schools have shown a decline in participation rates for science subjects to the lowest level in 20 years. Professor Chubb has called for strong, inspiring STEM teaching in schools (Office of the Chief Scientist, 2014).
Rolandsen, a qualified pilot, also teaches Aviation Studies at Indooroopilly State High School.
The Brisbane school is one of 25 government and non-government secondary schools involved in the Queensland Aerospace Gateway Schools project. Launched in 2000, it aims to create pathways for students into careers in the aerospace industry.
'The learning outcomes of Aerospace Studies will get them into one of the apprentice schools, like Aviation Australia or ATAE, where they must get a sound achievement that sets them up to be a flight attendant or aeronautical engineer,' Rolandsen says.
With more than 500,000 trainees who have walked through the doors of Space Camp since 1982, he hopes to inspire 'teachers and students to take the journey themselves'. Rolandsen says his 'real mission' was to find out it was suitable, and possible, for students to go in future years.
Indooroopilly State High School Principal Lois O’Reilly says many students already travel overseas for extracurricular activities and Space Camp may be the next adventure.
'For our engineering or aviation students [Space Camp] might be a really good place to go and have an overseas experience in a different culture, but [also] enhance their career aspirations by seeing the way things operate in that incredibly complex environment,' she says.
'Anything that engages and excites students is going to be beneficial. Students will be studying the National Curriculum but Peter can also design the curriculum with a real experience which has happened.'
She adds Rolandsen is also keen to share his knowledge beyond the school. 'He is an enthusiastic and committed teacher buzzing to implement the things he has learnt in different ways. The learning will be enhanced and his increased knowledge and understanding will feed into the learning process.'
Office of the Chief Scientist (2014), Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Australia’s Future. Australian Government, Canberra.
What resources are you using to make STEM lessons relevant, inspiring and engaging?
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