Q&A WITH AN EDUCATOR: Meredith Swartzendruben

Persistence has paid off for Caravel Academy science teacher Meredith Swartzendruben of Middletown. She has been chosen twice to participate in programs that teach educators about the intricacies of our universe.

The prestigious space programs that Swartzendruben has participated in have enriched her experiences as a science teacher she says, and, allowed her to share really exciting stories about her space adventures with her students.

Q Tell the readers about you and your work. What do you teach?

A I’ve been a resident of the MOT area since 2009. Since moving to Delaware, I’ve been teaching at Caravel Academy. As a middle school science teacher, I am always trying to find ways to bring science to life for my students, especially in STEM. I am an advocate for science education and am a member of the National Science Teachers Association, as well as the Civil Air Patrol Aerospace Education program. I am also the advisor of Middle School Science Olympiad for Caravel as well as the Solar Sprint and Space Clubs. This summer I was also an instructor for the Delaware Aerospace Academy. Space is a passion of mine, and through my different experiences outside the classroom, hope to bring my lessons to life for my students.

Q Tell us about the Space Academy for Educators. What is it? How did you get involved?

A In 2009, I was accepted on scholarship through Honeywell Technologies to attend Space Academy for Educators down in Huntsville, Alabama. During that week, I worked with teachers from around the world on lesson planning, mission simulations, and learning new material to bring back to my classroom. Since then, I have been trying to find a way to get back to the US Space and Rocket Center for Advanced Academy for Educators. Last month, I was given the opportunity. Only 13 teachers from around the globe attended advanced academy this year, and I had the privilege of meeting some of the most enthusiastic educators I have ever met.

Q What kind of activities did you do at the space academy?

A While there, we participated in numerous activities, many of which we can take back to our classrooms. Throughout the week, we were given the task of completing five different missions in shuttle simulators as well as a lunar mission simulation. In each of the missions, we were given a position. In the different missions, I was able to be the Commander of the Orion capsule, Mission Specialist on the Shuttle, Scientist on the International Space Station, and Mission Scientist and EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) Specialist in Mission Control. In each of these positions, I was given a specific task to do in order to successfully complete the mission.

In addition to the five missions, we also got to meet and converse with astronaut Dr. Don Thomas as well as Space Camp Founder, Ed Buckbee, who also served as the public relations specialist for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. As part of the advanced academy, we got to train in the Underwater Astronaut Trainer and use SCUBA gear to simulate micro-gravity. While at the bottom of a 30-foot tank, we had different activities to participate in. This allowed us to experience how astronauts train for working in space. Also as part of the week, we were given the opportunity to tour the United Launce Alliance, where Delta and Atlas rockets are constructed. We also toured the Marshall Spaceflight Center and were able to see the mission control room for the International Space Station. Back at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, we were able to experience 1/6 gravity in the moon chair and participated in many professional development activities where we gained invaluable knowledge and materials to bring back to our students.

Q How do you think your experience at the space academy helps your work as a teacher?

A My experience at Space Academy taught me more about myself than I ever realized. Through the many activities, we had to work as a team in order to be successful. This resonates with my work as a teacher because we all work together as a team to help students be successful in the classroom. Whether we are support crew or the commander, everyone must do their part. From a Field Trip to the Moon to Lunarnautics, I have many STEM lessons to bring back to my classroom in order to fully engage my students in hands-on activities. Through these activities, they will work collaboratively and gain problem-solving skills that they will need throughout their lives.

My enthusiasm for the subject-matter is reflected in my teaching style, and I encourage my students to take on that same excitement. Most recently, I have launched a campaign to bring the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program to my school in order to fully immerse 600-plus students in real life microgravity experimental design. The end result-one student experiment would be chosen from our school to fly on the International Space Station next spring. If funds can be raised in time, Caravel Academy would be one of the first schools in Delaware to participate in this program. (www.gofundme.com/CaravelSSEP)

The students in my classroom are the next generation of rocket scientists, astronauts, and aerospace educators. It is my hope as an educator to encourage them to reach for the stars and dream big, and hopefully land on the moon someday.