Teacher Innovator Institute

Monday, July 15, 2019

Me in spacesuit

David Black posing inside a mockup of a spacesuit outside the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum

This was our first official day of the Teacher Innovator Institute in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the National Air and Space Museum. It was held at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA, which is an extension of the main museum on the National Mall. I had never been to this annex before; it was one of those bucket list items that I finally got to check off.

I applied last year but was not accepted. In some ways I am glad to be part of the second cohort because last year would have been impossible, what with my son being in the hospital for a serious infection and remodeling our kitchen during the same time as the Institute. As a 2019 cohort, we also benefit from lessons learned last year. Between both cohorts there are 59 of us here.

Group waiting for bus 2

A group of TII teachers waiting for the bus to start the first official day of the Institute.

We walked from the dorms at American University across campus to where our bus would pick us up. It was a bit late, and we talked and got to know each other better. We are from around the country, some in small teams from the same schools, some like me are here as individuals. The Institute is funded by an anonymous private donation from a family foundation, and we have speculated which family this might be, but they remain anonymous. It is a generous donation and allows us to attend this Institute for three years and receive a substantial grant in addition to fund travel to conferences and to purchase supplies and equipment for the projects we will develop. For me, one of the best parts will be to attend and help out with the 50th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Group waiting for bus

A group of teachers, mostly from the 2018 cohort, waiting for the bus.

When the bus arrived I sat and talked with Toni, who told me of some of the creative projects she has done in her classroom including having students create working arcade games out of cardboard. I think this will be a great alternative to my Rube Goldberg project and will teach simple machines in a more structured way.

Hazy Center entrance

Entrance to the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.

It took about an hour to drive out to the annex, which is near Dulles International Airport. We had to drive down through Georgetown, cross the Potomac to Crystal City, then drive out into Virginia amid slow traffic this time of morning. The Udvar-Hazy Center is a huge hangar shaped building that is even larger than the National Mall building and houses an incredible array of air and spacecraft and other artifacts. We unloaded our bus and walked in, depositing our backpacks and personal items in a classroom on the ground floor near the stairs before walking across the hangar floor past the SR-71 Blackbird to the Space Shuttle Discovery in the back hangar area.

Ellen Stofan keynote at TII

Dr. Ellen Stofan welcomes us to the Teacher Innovator Institute. She is speaking under the nose of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Dr. Ellen Stofan, Director of the Air and Space Museum, was waiting for us and spoke to us, welcoming us to Washington, D.C. and outlining some of the activities going on this week. I asked her about the panel discussion she will be having with Michael Collins on Friday, and she told us more about what the astronauts will be doing this week. After her remarks we had an excellent breakfast while sitting under the nose of the Space Shuttle. After eating I took a few photos before we returned to our classroom.

TII breakfast by shuttle

Teachers for the Institute eating breakfast under the nose of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

We participated in an engineering design contest with our mentors (Shaori took me on as an additional mentee) to build a safe Lunar Lander for two eggs dropped off the second floor balcony. There were some very creative approaches, and this is definitely a group of highly competitive and innovative teachers. We did well with our airbag and parachute concept – similar to Mars rover landers. Neither of our eggs broke, but we did not win the hang time part of the challenge.

Me by Discovery

David Black by the Space Shuttle Discovery at the National Air and Space Museum; July 2019.

We separated by cohorts so that the 2019 group could prepare presentations while we made introductions for ourselves. We ate lunches that we had brought with us in our nice TII backpacks then listened to presentations from the 2018 cohort. I chose to stay and hear Ben and others talk about experiential learning through outdoor science programs. Ben lives in western Virginia and does several large field study projects with his students to gather data on the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including stream and bay environmental studies. Another teacher, Leann, spoke on a new outdoor science park created in the center of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is designed for students to conduct open-ended field studies and gather data on native plants and animals.

SR 71

The SR-71 Blackbird on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, VA.

Shannon Baldioli, the organizer and leader of the Institute, introduced us to a group GooseChase challenge. This is an app that allows organizers to post questions and challenges concerning a geographical area (or a museum) and teams then post photos or videos, answer questions, or otherwise prove they have completed the challenges. The questions are auto scored, but they can be overridden by the game organizers to add or subtract points or disallow entries. We were supposed to join into teams of six, but after trying to join three different teams and being told they were full, I finally joined a team that was a little less gung-ho about the whole thing. We called ourselves the Slackers and decided to post responses only if we happened to run across them. The other teams were expending a great deal of time and effort trying to win, and I didn’t feel like chasing all over D.C. with my swollen leg. I definitely overdid it yesterday, and am paying the price today. I’ve had to keep it elevated most of the time.

Lunar REceiving lab

The Lunar Receiving Lab, which was on the USS Hornet when they recovered the Apollo 11 astronauts. They had to live inside in isolation for two weeks just to make sure they didn’t bring any Moon bugs back with them. There is a famous photo of Pres. Nixon talking to them through the window at the end to my right.

A NASA van had pulled up outside and we went out to get posters and other bling and to pose inside of a spacesuit mock up. At 4:00 we boarded the bus and returned to American University. For supper a group of us walked a short distance to a restaurant called Wagshals, where I ordered a Reuben sandwich with sourdough bread.

Close Encounters ship

Recognize this? It is the original model for the Mother Ship in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Now imagine it with a lot of colored LED lights and that classic John Williams sound track: “Bom bom bom BAH DAH!” Somewhere on here is supposed to be a small model of R2-D2 but I didn’t find it.

I spent the evening talking to other teachers and working on lesson plans. My classes are still going this first week and I have to send in plans to substitutes and grade papers while I am here. I continue to be greatly impressed by the wide range of creativity and experience of the teachers in both cohorts, and I feel privileged to be here with them. This is already shaping up to be one of the best professional development programs I have participated in.

Jim Irwin suit 3

Jim Irwin’s spacesuit from the Apollo 15 mission, complete with helmet, gloves, and lunar dust.

Milestones of flight mural

This mural is called Milestones of Flight and it is hanging up on the wall on the ground floor of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. I have a copy of this hanging on my wall at school.


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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