Bob Cabana, former astronaut and current director of the Kennedy Space Center, and UD's Leigh Kaminski.

Houston, we have a solution

UD students participate in NASA's teacher institute


11:12 a.m., July 30, 2013--While some students might spend time during the summer skipping rocks across a lake, three University of Delaware elementary teacher education students -- junior Leigh Kaminski and seniors Corrin Stilwell and Katie Wittman -- learned how to handle moon rocks.

Selected to participate in the NASA Pre-Service Teacher Institute (PSTI), the students spent one-to-two weeks learning how to integrate cutting-edge research into lesson plans for elementary and middle school students.

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PSTIs are held each summer at Ames Research Center, Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center, Langley Research Center, Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Research Center. 

Open to applicants nationally, participants are selected based on academic credentials and ideas for sharing their knowledge from the PSTI not just with students but with other educators.

Kaminski and Stillwell attended the Kennedy Space Center near Orlando and Wittman at the Johnson space Center in Houston, where NASA personnel exposed them to problem-based learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities.

Kaminski became interested in the PSTI program after another UD student visited her Math 252 class last fall. “I grew up in Florida and I have always had an interest in space, but I know many children do not get to visit a NASA center. This was a great opportunity to learn more about what they do and how to incorporate it into my future classroom.”

“The NASA staff gave us so many resources to use,” Kaminski said. “I received seeds from a cinnamon basil plant that went up to space. This will give my future students the opportunity to design an experiment to test space seeds versus normal seeds. The program also provided us stimulating ways to incorporate science in other subjects.”

All three students attended training to become certified to handle lunar rocks, qualifying them to borrow samples from NASA to share with students. “Lunar rocks are considered national treasures,” Stilwell, an Honors Program student, said. “There are numerous steps to ensure their safety and protection while they are within the teacher’s possession. Holding the lunar rock sample was incredibly exciting. Very few people have the opportunity and privilege to touch something so valuable and interesting.”

At the end of the session, Kaminski and Stilwell took their lesson plans and taught a 4th and 5th grade class at a local magnet school. Meanwhile, Wittman presented her lesson plan “Rotor Motors” to children ages 5-8 at a day camp near Johnson Space Center.

All three students agreed that this was a constructive experience and they would share what they learned with their students and colleagues when they become full-time teachers. 

Wittman said, “I am from West Grove, Pa., and I plan to stay in the area and teach elementary or middle school science. We were exposed to so many lessons I can tweak depending on the grade level that I’ll be teaching. I took away a lot of great ideas that I can implement in my future classroom.”

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