After arriving at NASA’s Space Camp, parting from our accompanying students, getting the grand tour, and settling into our rooms, we were ready to begin the Space Camp for Educators experience. On multiple occasions, our counselors told us to “prepare to embrace our inner 12 year olds,” or “be ready to be kids again.” This appealed to me right away, because children are inherently mindful. I hoped for a good experience, but was pleasantly delighted to discover that the camp would exceed all expectations! I can’t wait to apply what I have learned with my students!
The collaborative learning experiences that followed over the next few days provided me with many powerful takeaways. In addition to being engaged in unique and awesome simulations that would draw mindful attention from anyone, I experienced firsthand the power of consciously applying mindfulness techniques when collaborating with groups, as the ability to successfully work with others to solve complex problems has become an increasingly necessary skill in a rapidly evolving workplace.
Launching Solar Shields
One problem-based learning activity stands out. After a lesson on solar shields, we broke into groups and were given access to an array of maker materials- from paper towel tubes, to rubber bands, to foil, to glue guns. Our “mission”: After assigning formal roles to each member of the team, launch an object attached to a “shield” of a particular surface area which would open and land flat (sort of like a parachute). In our group there were the usuals: the ones whose inclination is to take the lead, and the “hang-backers.” The natural leaders emerged. Early on, I was not one of them. A little insecure in my engineering ability to effectively accomplish this task, I initially kept quiet. One member of the group had what seemed like a very innovative and elaborate idea, however, it did seem way too intricate for our time constraints. I also didn’t think the materials we had could make it work. With the activity outside of my comfort zone, I realized how difficult it would be to convey my thoughts in a sensitive, confident manner. My instinct was to raise the volume of my voice slightly in order to force my vision on the others. I’ve seen this a million times working with impulsive middle schoolers; that intense belief that your way is THE way. I thought about the mindful communication techniques I apply with students before offering my input.
We ended up using a combination of different ideas and alas, our project did not work. But we laughed and had lots of fun and it was interesting to bounce ideas off of one another. I realized through mindful introspection that I know more than I think I do, and the same goes for my class members. As group members, we must truly listen to others, have confidence in our ideas, and communicate with our fellows in a compassionate, non-judgemental manner. All students need to understand this, and we must teach them this skill.
Discovering A New Solar System
This group project was designed to teach students how differently we perceive space through our own two eyes, through telescopes, and ultimately through spacecraft that go beyond our view-obstructing atmosphere. A mock solar system which consisted of a variety of objects in different shapes and colors (mostly balls which represented planets), was hidden under a blanket. First, a member of each group would have a brief glimpse at it with his or her eyes from across the room, and would then have to draw what they saw. The other members of the group would alternately be allowed to steal glances from a variety of angles, speeds, and through various obstructions. Only the group member responsible for observing could look at it at any given time. Everyone else had to look away. The final objective was to draw and describe the solar system in detail by combining our various views. During THIS scenario, I felt incredibly confident. I am a highly visual learner with a very strong sense of spacial relationships (I love to sketch). Again, mindful introspection and mindful communication impacted our work as a group. It turns out that certain aspects of the “solar system” that I was so certain about based on my own observations alone were, in fact, inaccurate. It truly required input from all group members to complete this task. Suprise!
Landing Orion On Mars
Having conquered the gyroscope, the 3G simulator, the 1/16 gravity simulator, the zipline, and the escape from a water crash, the next set of group activities were a blast (no pun intended) and completed my physical ‘astronaut training’. They were the launch and landing simulations. This is what we were excited about most of all! We played roles as members of ground control, or astronauts on the shuttle or on spacewalks. Everyone had a task to complete which was graded individually resulting in a final total for our team. I am psyched to say that our team, Destiny, beat all of the other educator groups for this session of camp! We could not have been more proud! Participating in this challenge reinforced the importance of doing my best to complete my own task when the grade of the group is at stake. Knowing that an individual’s effort will directly impact others can be a great motivator for students.
The final activity I will mention was a soIo activity. We had an opportunity to attend one of a number of breakout workshops. Now more confident in my abilities outside of my comfort zone, I chose the activity that I had the least amount of interest in, and the most fear of learning, as I’ve had trouble wrapping my brain around it in the past: Circuitry… Eww… (I am deeply ashamed to admit this fact, as a popular part of our library makerspace is dedicated to this.) Using a soldering iron for the first time and successfully getting my little flashlight to blink, I was giddy as a child accomplishing a task for the first time! This experience kindled an excitement in me about something I never thought I could get excited about.
I learned how important it is to NOT be afraid of failure when learning something new. This is something we say in regard to our innovative teaching practices in my home district, but something that proved WAY more difficult to actually practice. The second takeaway was knowing when and how to ask for assistance. When you pay mindful attention to the task at hand and can clearly and honestly assess your ability to complete the task, you must then communicate mindfully with your group members to effectively seek the assistance you need.
I am truly grateful to have had this immersive experience. For starters, I learned amazing facts about the history of space travel, the mind-blowing technology that exists on the horizon, and incredible facts about our precious planet, the solar system, and the infinite space beyond. Getting to experience project and problem-based learning experiences AS A STUDENT reinforced my belief in the importance of mindfulness in schools, and will inform my teaching of mindfulness practices to students and teachers alike (in terms of assessing situations, self reflection, and communication). Last, but certainly not least, I am grateful for the friendships and FUN. We shared lots of laughs and maintained communication throughout the rest of the summer via social media. There has already been talk of collaborating this upcoming school year! Yay, Team Destiny!