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From Science Teacher to Astronaut

Last spring, Science Buddies announced in a teacher newsletter that applications were being accepted for Northrop Grumman Foundation's Weightless Flights of Discovery Program. Last week, the 30 teachers selected for the "zero-gravity" flight, a flight that normally runs around 5K per person, were announced. We were excited to see Erin Moore among the teachers listed. Erin, an eighth grade teacher at Lincoln Avenue School in Illinois, says she applied after hearing about the program from Science Buddies.

The flight, operated by Zero Gravity Corp., will take place later this week. Science Buddies asked Erin if she would be willing to share her experience with teachers around the country via the Science Buddies' blog. These flights are designed to provide teachers with cutting-edge science and an experience that can change their lives -- and the lives of their students. We expected to get a post-flight summary, but Erin has already found that news of the flight has had an impact on her teaching -- and taken hold of her students' imaginations.

Here's what Erin has to say as she navigates the "buzz" of excitement -- and misunderstanding -- that has surrounded her since the announcement of the upcoming flight.

Erin Moore, Science Teacher
Erin Moore, eighth grade science teacher, will soon have a "weightless" experience of a lifetime to share with her students.

So there was a media blitz this week. Last Friday, out of nowhere, reporters were asking to interview me... several. I entertained reporter after reporter. Thank goodness it was a half day. I drew diagrams on my board, taught about how weightlessness happens, demoed Newton's laws. In general, I was being a teacher.

By Monday, the papers were running the story. I was third page news. Then something strange happened. By Monday evening, my story was in the Tribune and the Sun Times. There was a blurb on ABC 7 and in two local papers. Mothers of the staff were calling their daughters asking if the reports were talking about my school, "is this one of yours?"

Tuesday, the principal made a nice speech over the intercom and asked the school to congratulate me. It was touching. By the afternoon, someone had taped the newspaper stories and clippings onto my door.

In a matter of days, I have entered this strange land of minor celebrity. I am not the science teacher any more. Now I am the astronaut.

4th graders are walking by me and breaking into huge smiles. Their eyes light up with wonder. "Mrs. Moore, congratulations. Will you tell us what it is like to go into outer space?"

This stirs a conflict inside of me between allowing the kids to think something that inspires them but is wrong, or to teach.

As a science teacher it is important to me that kids understand, really important. I teach about how computers work. I teach spectrometry. I am always explaining that science is not just about making this stuff up. I believe when we can show them, they can understand! Every year I promise my students they will leave my classroom understanding how the power makes the power and how it travels. I promise they will learn and understand every part of what happens when they turn on a light switch.

But now I am conflicted about the line between inspiration and truth.

I tried to explain to two of my former students that I am not going into space. Instead, I am going to be weightless. "Oh." The light in their eyes went out.

Too many times my students are disappointed by life. They feel let down and lied to. So do I smile and nod my head, passing along inspiration messages... knowing that I am not going into space but that I serve as a hope. Or do I try to sit down and draw parabolas to get students to understand. Do I take the magic away but return the power of knowledge to them?

For now, my solution is based on time. The flight is coming quickly. When possible I will explain. Until then, it's a thumbs up, a big smile, and my best effort to remind students that the world IS wonderful, and so is life.

Northrop Grumman's Weightless Flights of Discovery

A cooperative effort between Northrop Grumman, sponsor of Science Buddies' Aerodynamics Interest Area, and ZERO-G, the Weightless Flights of Discovery program began in 2006. Almost 250 teachers participated that first year, a number that almost doubled in 2007.


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