AURORA | Shelly Grandell had taken on the mindset of a toughened boot camp cadet by the end of her seven days in Alabama.
The science teacher from Horizon Middle School in Aurora had gotten used to the early wake-up calls, the rushed meals and the marathon training sessions that lasted up to 14 hours. The military-style lifestyle at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., was physically demanding; if the training sessions weren’t exactly the same as training for the Marines, it offered a slight peek into that world.
“The physical stuff was always challenging,” said Grandell, who’s taught science at Horizon for four years. “It was just a blur. There was just so much going on, and it was pretty exhausting, both mentally and physically.”
The week Grandell spent in Huntsville was far more intellectually demanding than she anticipated. In addition to swinging from rope courses, taking part in team-building exercises and training for dangerous rescue missions, Grandell took turns recreating shuttle launches and extracting DNA from strawberries. Along with more than 250 teachers from 27 different countries who reported to Alabama earlier this summer, Grandell prepared for the harsh and unforgiving atmosphere of space.
She was one of an international crew to earn a scholarship for the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy program, an initiative that connects science teachers with the sophisticated and expensive training tools at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Grandell’s week at space camp included a jet simulation, detailed space missions, land and water survival missions, interactive flight simulators and one-on-one time with NASA astronaut and engineer Leroy Chiao.
For Grandell, who ran a planetarium at Adams State College for seven years before becoming a teacher, the camp was a chance to realize a childhood dream, as well as gather knowledge to bring back to the classroom.
“I was hanging from the ceiling in crazy harnesses, using the same tools as the astronauts use,” Grandell said, adding that the simulations for space missions were just as authentic. “(Our team) was coordinating door locks; we had to make sure we were listening to flight control. You’re sitting in this simulator, and there are literally thousands of switches and buttons glowing,” she said. “It really teaches problem solving skills, and it’s great to bring that into the classroom.”
That’s a big part of the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy program, an initiative specifically targeted at ramping up science, technology, engineering and math curriculum in schools across the world. Honeywell, an aerospace manufacturing company, awarded more than 200 scholarships for the program this year.
“This is the 10th year Honeywell has sent teachers to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center,” said USSRC CEO and executive director Deborah Barnhart in a statement. “These teachers, in turn, inspire tens of thousands of students around the world.”
For Grandell, that will mean connecting curriculum about space flights to personal anecdotes about spinning upside down in an astronaut trainer and working to rescue astronauts from a sinking shuttle. Grandell also received free AutoCAD design software, a 3-D program that will allow her students to take part in engineering, designing and architectural projects.
“We’re really trying to bring in STEM to our building. That software is going to be huge,” Grandell said. “I’m excited. There’s just so much to share, and that was one of my main goals: to share with teachers in my building and in the district.”
Grandell will also draw from the international contacts she made in Huntsville. As the 2013-14 school year kicks off, Grandell already has planned with other teachers she met at space camp. Her students will Skype with classrooms in Australia and the Czech Republic for STEM-based lessons. Those connections get to the heart of what Space Camp meant for Grandell — beyond the hours spent in sophisticated flight simulators and climbing in harnesses on the ceiling, Grandell learned the importance of working with her peers, both locally and internationally.
“I wish more teachers knew about things like this. You really have to dig, you really have to talk to other teachers,” Grandell said. “We’re our greatest resource. That’s how I found out about all these things.”
Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at 720-449-9707 or [email protected]