Students in Wallingford’s STEM Academy program were excited this morning as they prepared for a chance to talk with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. But after many unsuccessful attempts to contact the station via amateur radio as it passed over North America, the group finally had to give up as the station continued on its orbit, moving out of reach of the radio waves.
Chris Stone, a Wallingford fifth-grade teacher and the founder of the STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — program had carefully prepared for the event with NASA, which had taken an interest in the Wallingford program. The students and the teachers who facilitate the program were disappointed they weren’t able to have the conversation they’d put so much work toward, but they realized the event was useful in experiencing the realities of being a scientist.
Program facilitator and fifth-grade teacher at Rock Hill Elementary School in Wallingford Alison Gibertoni said, “The reality is, you fail more than you succeed in science. And those failures can teach you a lot.”
Greg Colonese, a program facilitator and Hamden High School teacher, said, “If everything always worked out perfectly, it wouldn’t be realistic for the kids.”
Though the attempt to make contact with the Space Station was a failure, the morning’s activities overall were a big success. The participants weren’t limited to the STEM Academy students in grades four through eight who meet regularly to take part in hands-on science activities, but also included students from other Wallingford and Meriden public schools.
Before the attempt to contact the Space Station, the students all took part in a series of hands on science experiments that clearly got them excited and motivated to learn more about STEM.
Gibertoni asked the visiting students, “Who would be interested in learning how to build a robot? Who would be interested in designing and developing a contraption that would save the integrity of an innocent, beautiful little egg?”
The hands stretching high in the air and the expressions on the faces of the students made their feelings very clear.
The STEM Academy facilitators want to expand the program to include more area students and their families. The program opens children’s eyes to the possibilities of STEM, allowing them more time with hands-on experiments than they’d normally have in the classroom.
CEA President Sheila Cohen said, “This program involves the best teaching practices we know, executed by high qualified professional educators. But it’s more than that. It’s providing an opportunity not only to the male students but to the female students, and to members of ethnic minority communities.”
Senator Len Fasano, who represents Wallingford and surrounding towns, and Wallingford Superintendent Salvatore Menzo both thanked CEA and the teachers, students, and parents involved for all their efforts. Fasano said, “This program is going to teach our kids what they need to know for the future. With the backing of CEA, the teachers who have done a wonderful job with the kids, and the parents who give kids support, this is the future.”
And it’s not just what some might think of as traditional STEM skills that the kids are learning. To prepare for talking to astronauts on the International Space Station the students carefully considered which of their many questions they would choose to ask, and then practiced stating their names and reading the questions slowly and clearly.
Though they didn’t have the chance to ask their questions of an actual astronaut today, they shared the questions with the other students and parents in attendance, inspiring questioning in the minds of the audience as well.
Some of the students’ questions included:
- What is the most difficult part of your training?
- Do the female astronauts have to keep their hair up in a pony tail?
- Do you come in contact with any robots made by NASA?
- Do you celebrate holidays on the space station?
- What do you do to prevent some of the negative effects of zero gravity?
Stone said that NASA is still committed to making the connection with an astronaut happen for the students. The STEM Academy may be able to try to make contact with the Space Station again in early January.
“The kids are ultimately going to learn about perseverance,” Stone said. “We have to problem solve and figure out what went wrong. That right there is a big learning experience.”
Cohen said,”This program is one the entire country is going to be looking at because Chris Stone is one of the five finalists for the National Education Association Foundation for the Improvement of Education Award for Teaching Excellence. That will bring a national spotlight to this program. ”