On a New Adventure

SLC airplane arrives

Our flight arrives at the Salt Lake International Airport. I flew to Washington, D.C. for the Teacher Innovator Institute at the National Air and Space Museum.

I have been extremely fortunate as a STEAM teacher to experience a number of fun adventures despite being a rather ordinary person. This hasn’t been because of any remarkable talent or skill unless you count dogged persistence as a talent. I just keep on applying to different programs, hoping some of them will come through. Overall, my success rate has been about 25%, which means I fail ¾ of the time. You have to learn to shrug off the failures and be grateful for the occasional successes.

This year I have applied for nine programs or opportunities and was successful on four of them, but had to turn two of them down (one to present at a chemistry teachers conference, another to present at a STEM Forum) because they conflicted with the other two and I would have needed to pay my own way. The ones I accepted were admittance to a doctoral program at the University of Northern Colorado, which I will write about in two weeks, and the second a two-week Teacher Innovator Institute at the National Air and Space Museum. I began that adventure today.

While waiting for my flight I ran into Wendi Lawrence, who is now our regional representative for the National Science Teaching Association. She was on my same flight, going to the National Congress on Science Education, which I attended in Omaha four years ago (and will report on eventually). I have known and worked with Wendi several times over the last several years and it was good to see her again.

We took the direct Delta Flight 832 from Salt Lake City to Washington National Airport which takes off about 9:48 am and arrives at 4:00 pm. There were no delays or problems and the flight was uneventful on a nice, new airplane. I had the left aisle seat so that I could stretch out my gimpy right leg and wore compression socks so that I could handle the long flight.

Airplane and Capitol Bldg

An airplane taxis on the runway at Reagan National Airport with the Potomac River and the Capital Building in the background.

The Institute began last year with an inaugural group of 30 teachers who have returned to D.C. this last week. Now the 2019 cohort are arriving and we will be going behind the scenes at the National Air and Space Museum, both at the National Mall museum and the Udvar-Hazy extension in Chantilly, VA, which I have never visited before. We will learn about the curating process, visit other museums, take a Potomac River cruise, and develop our own space science lesson plans and projects. Best of all, we will be here during the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. For this reason, my project is to develop better lesson plans to teach about the Apollo program and the Moon. What I have now are a hodge podge of different materials that need to be collated, condensed, improved, and have standards and objectives added. We will participate and even help out with the museum’s activities during the celebrations.

DCA tower

Air Traffic Control tower at Reagan National Airport.

I have been to Washington, D.C. many times before and even lived here after my sophomore year of college and worked as a Congressional Intern for Senator Hatch of Utah. We lived in apartments in Alexandria and commuting in every day as my roommate had his car and was a staff member for an Idaho senator. On Saturdays I would take the Metro in to town and visit a museum or two, so I got to know the system well. That was in 1982 and more lines have been added, but not much has changed.

So instead of waiting for other teachers to arrive and taking an Uber or a shuttle van, I rolled my luggage up to the Metro station and rode the yellow line to the Gallery Place – Chinatown Station, then transferred to the Red Line heading toward Shady Grove. We had been mailed Metro cards with $108 pre-loaded, so why pay for another ride? My only trouble was that the upper escalator at the Tenleytown-AU station was under repair, so I had to lug my luggage up the escalator by hand, stopping to let people get by. This was challenging in the hot, humid D.C. summer weather. Outside the station was a bus stop with a shuttle bus taking us to American University, where we will be staying in the dorms at Federal Hall.

DC Metro interior

I took the Yellow Line Metro line from the airport to Gallery Place, then switched to the Red Line and got off at the Tenleytown-AU station.

It took a bit to find the hall after finally asking for directions. I am in room 501, sharing with a teacher named Jay from Omaha, Nebraska. He hadn’t arrived yet, so I unpacked, turned down the thermostat as far as it would go, plugged in the minifridge, and went outside. Some other teachers were congregating in the hall, so we introduced ourselves all around and decided to go as a group to the nearest Target to buy food and supplies.

We walked across campus to the far shuttle bus stop and took it back to the Tenleytown Station, then rode the Red Line to Cleveland Park and walked across the street to the Target, which was in the basement of a strip mall. I bought enough food to last the weekend. Then we took the Metro back to Tenleytown and stopped at the Whole Foods store. The entrance was hard to find, as it was actually in a parking garage (D.C. is like that – older buildings adapted for new uses but with unexpected entrances). I got some natural peanut butter, raspberry jam, and a 12-grain bread for sandwiches. We were all pretty tired of the heat and humidity by the time we got back to the dorms.

TII teachers in Tenleytown Station

Some of the teachers in the 2019 cohort for the Teacher Innovator Institute. They are, left to right, Paula, Monica, Monic, Hunter, Michelle, and Ruth.

After putting my food away and eating some of it for supper, I ventured out and met some of the 2018 cohort. They had gotten to know each other well the preceding year and the week before and were decompressing by watching Stranger Things on a Roku that someone had brought while others were playing Magic. I can see that we newbies will need to do some deliberate team building activities over the next few days to bond with this very cohesive group.

By the time I got back Jay arrived and we talked about our respective teaching experiences until midnight. I have brought along some questionnaires so that I can collect the experiences of these teachers as a kind of pre-dissertation research project. I want to know what kinds of experiences they have had with Project-Based Learning, using authentic data and student-centered research, global citizenship, STEAM, and other subjects that will help direct me toward the most fruitful topics during my doctoral program. I want to hit the ground running.

Cleveland Park Target

Sign in the Target at Cleveland Park.

I called my family to say goodnight and slept surprisingly well considering the room was too hot (I brought a small fan, which helped) and the bed was small.

So off I go on another adventure. I will try to write a daily post to describe our activities in a hope that other teachers out there can benefit from our experiences and perhaps even apply for next year.

Dorm room-American Univ

Our dorm room at American University. We are staying in Federal Hall. Shannon Baldioli, who heads the Institute for the National Air and Space Museum, left us gifts – water bottles, shirts, name tags, stickers, books on the exhibits, and a backpack. Let the bling begin!

About davidvblack

I teach courses in multimedia, 3D animation, Earth science, physics, biology, 8th grade science, chemistry, astronomy, engineering design, STEAM, and computer science in Utah. I've won numerous awards as an educator and am a frequent presenter at state and national educator conferences. I am part of the Teachers for Global Classrooms program through the U.S. Department of State and traveled to Indonesia in the summer of 2017 as an education ambassador. I learned of the Indonesian education system and taught classes in astronomy and chemistry at a high school near Banjarmasin in southern Borneo. I am passionate about STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics); science history; photography; graphic design; 3D animation; and video production. This Spaced-Out Classroom blog is for sharing lessons and activities my students have done in astronomy. The Elements Unearthed project (http://elementsunearthed.com) will combine my interests to document the discovery, history, sources, uses, mining, refining, and hazards of the chemical elements.
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