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Westfield Teacher's Space Program Experience Out of This World

Van Riper was one of 180 educators from 49 countries who were chosen to participate in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program that was held in Huntsville, Alabama at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Esther J. Van Riper, Teacher of the Gifted Program in the Westfield Public Schools, is sharing with her students what she learned during her extraordinary professional development experience this summer. Van Riper was one of 180 educators from 49 countries who were chosen to participate in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program that was held in Huntsville, Alabama at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.  The aim of the Space Academy program is to provide teachers with meaningful and innovative educational techniques to bring back to their classroom to awaken student interest and inspire the next generation of scientists. 

As a result of her experience, Van Riper has implemented several new lessons for her students. For example, her third grade students will complete the DNA plant extraction laboratory lesson during their study of biology to enhance the learning objectives on plant and animal cells. This spring, Van Riper will implement the ablative shielding and lunar Rover/Lander challenge lessons with her sixth grade physics class as they explore force, motion and engineering a design. 

Van Riper started the school year having completed 45 hours of classroom, laboratory, and simulated astronaut field-training that focused on space science and exploration within the Space Academy Program. Working in teams this summer, she participated in a variety of activities, workshops, and simulations to achieve a multitude of mission objectives, including, performing experiments in the lab, rocketry, constructing ablative shielding, astronaut training, and the history of space flight. Van Riper’s team, Destiny, was comprised of 14 educators from 7 different countries: Finland, the Czech Republic, Romania, China, India, Mexico, and the USA. All of the lessons were aligned with National Science and Math standards and can be adapted to be taught in 4th through 8th grade classrooms. 

“I am proud to have been a member of the program’s graduating class of 2012 and to have joined a network of educators who completed the Space Academy program consisting of more than 1,650 graduates from 45 countries and 50 states,” she added. 

The Westfield teacher created a website containing the itinerary of her journey with detailed information, pictures, video, and educational resources.  The website can be viewed publicly and the address of that site is: https://sites.google.com/site/mrsvanriperspaceacademy/.

“We are proud of Ms. Van Riper’s selection to this prestigious program, and are excited that she is sharing her experience and resources with our students and other faculty members,” commented Westfield Superintendent of Schools, Margaret Dolan. 

One of the goals in the Westfield Public School District’s strategic plan is to develop increased opportunities for students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields for our students.  The School District held in-house STEM workshops for teachers in the summer with guest presenters to further support this goal.

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