Each year teachers from across the nation are invited to participate in an opportunity of a lifetime through the National Teacher of the Year (NTOY) program. NASA’s Space Academy for Educators is a place for all of the National Teachers of the Year to come together for a professional learning experience in space exploration.
“Before going to camp, as an English teacher, I felt some apprehension that I wouldn’t excel in the same ways that my NTOY colleagues in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] fields might,” said 2022 Maine Teacher of the Year Kelsey Stoyanova. “I quickly came to realize that there are so many career paths that exist within the realm of space and space exploration that I never expected.”
Held at NASA’s Space Camp Headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, the Space Academy for Educators program includes authentic astronaut training simulators and activities developed to promote learning in a classroom setting. Curriculum includes NASA-inspired lesson plans and is correlated to the National Science Education Standards.
Upon understanding more about what the experience was all about, Stoyanova explained that, “many people look at anything NASA and space related and think SCIENCE, but the truth is, space exploration programs employ technical writers, PR specialists, photographers, architects, and more.”
Some of Stoyanova’s favorite experiences include travelling to the ISS via spacecraft and having to solve anomalies with friends and fellow mission specialists from New York and Michigan, getting “dropped” from a helicopter into the water and having to swim to a rescue rendezvous point (and ultimately having to get rescued), and launching rockets from the rocket launch pad where her team sported their Live and Work in Maine t-shirts which she had brought with her give to fellow educators.
She also got to experience the simulation of the space craft tumble in the multi-axis trainer. “[It] flipped me every which way and we all couldn’t stop laughing,” as well as the simulation of the moon walk. “I’ve never felt so weightless — and I perfected the moon RUN,” said Stoyanova.
What topped all the once in a lifetime opportunities and experiences, Stoyanova says, was the unequivocal appreciation that exuded from everyone hosting educators at Space Camp that week. “The whole week was filled with gratitude at what educators do to help grow the next generation of thinkers, creators, speakers, innovators, and explorers.”
In fact, one thing that stood out to our Maine representative was the many counselors there who are now adults but were once campers. “My team leader, Sydney, is now a middle school science teacher while another is in school to be an aeronautical engineer. As space camp alum they continue to go back year after year to inspire the future generation to be innovators of space exploration in some way,” said Stoyanova. “Every kid should have the opportunity to go to space camp,” she added.
Stoyanova also found inspiration in learning that as part of the Artemis I mission which is set to try launching again in late September, the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion will have Maine made pieces that will aid in going to the moon. Two companies in Maine, both in Biddeford contributed to the building of the spacecraft being launched in the Artemis I mission (learn more here). “It takes so much more than just what you see on launch day for a successful mission.” For Stoyanova this is a wonderful example of the idea that in education, every lesson matters and students find success when they are able to connect and apply their learning to the world around them.
“My experiences at space camp, as a scientist, a builder, an inventor, a mission specialist, an astronaut, a critical thinker, and team member truly demonstrated my belief that authentic learning happens through experiences where students can see themselves in roles or actually be part of the outcome,” said Stoyanova. “As a lifelong learner, Space Camp holds lessons I’ll cherish forever.”