Educators Use Space to Promote Science

In his State of the Union Address -- President George Bush anounced his plans for an American competitiveness initiative. He pledged $136 billion will be spent on research and development, education and innovation over the next ten years. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, more than 600 teachers are in Houston participating in a conference to promote those same goals

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Teachers from the U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan are at Space Center Houston this week in an effort to promote math and science through the use of space exploration. Cherri Brinley is the Science Department Chair at St. Edward Catholic School in Spring. She uses rocket science to catch the attention of her eighth grade students.

"When someone says you need to take trig or you need to take calculus or you need to take physics or you need to take analytical geometry, it doesn't matter what it's called, what matters is your motivation to take it. Why are you doing it, why are you learning it, how are you going with this, how can it help. One of these kids may be the next person to Mars, they're the right age. And with the vision for space exploration the way it is, if we're not educating to look toward the future, if we're educating for the present then we're wasting our time."

She says educators need to know how to inspire their students, so she lets her students do the teaching at this conference. Each student is given a project to demonstrate. Brinley says math and science have to be accessible. No one wants to participate in something if they think they're going to fail.

"As teachers we tend to look for things that are motivational and inspirational for the kids but that do not create a lot of paperwork and work for us as preparers. All of these activities are exciting to do, they're hands-on, they're visual. Your visual learners do them, your auditory learners can succeed with them. They're inspirational because it enables a child to be successful."

Most of the teachers in the workshop are surprised to find students teaching them concepts of thermodynamics and trigonometry. Catalina Noyola is one of Brinley's students. She says learning about rocketry has solidified her desire to become an astronaut. And she loves being on the other side by educating school teachers.

"It's actually fun because you get to see the teachers expressions and what they say. And it's actually quite surprising because some teachers don't know, don't even know how to blow up a balloon with a pump and it's kind of funny watching them, but it's actually very interesting."

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, less than 10,000 people work in the field of aerospace engineering, and that number is declining. Boeing is sponsoring the education conference at NASA's Space Center. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...