The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

August 18, 2013

Case teacher is one happy space camper

Draws lesson plans from the final frontier

By Melissa Klaric
Herald Staff Writer

SHARON — When she was a kid in pajamas, Dawn Blaus watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. This got her interested in “all things space,” she said.

Blaus teaches fifth grade at Case Avenue Elementary School in Sharon and won a scholarship to the Honeywell Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., this summer.

She was one of 100 educators from across the country and around the world to attend the week-long program.

“I’m always looking for new and innovative things to do to bring the real world into my classroom,” Blaus said.

She took a graduate class offered through the University of Alabama to help her take what she learned in space camp and use it in the classroom.

“Taking the additional class really helps you focus and make a definite plan to incorporate it into your classroom,” she said.

Blaus can hardly wait to get into her fifth-grade classroom at the new Case Avenue school to build what she learned at space camp into lesson plans.

The first thing she’s set to do is decorate her classroom in a special theme for the kids.

During the “get to know you” phase in the first week of school, Blaus plans on having the kids design a “space mission” patch.

This will be a group activity in which kids can begin to work on their team skills, a point Blaus wants to work on throughout the year.

Her group at space camp designed their own mission patch. Her team was made up of teachers from Ireland, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Hawaii, Tennessee, and Maine.

They named themselves “Team Harmony,” from one of the modules of the international space program.

“The team I was on was very close-knit.” Blaus said. “By the end of week it felt like you had a close connection with people you knew all your life.”

The space program was every day from 7 a.m. to about 9 p.m. for a week.

“It was a packed week. There was not a dull moment,” Blaus said. “It was just life-changing.”

Blaus said a lot she learned at space camp dealt with working with a group, and how to work through solving real-world problems.

“We want our kids to be thinkers and problem solvers – confident in their abilities,” Blaus said.

Activities at space camp that have inspired Blaus to come up with new and exciting lesson plans were beyond her wildest imaginings.

She participated in physical activities such as ziplining from a platform into water and climbing walls.

An aviation challenge simulated a helicopter crash. Blaus said it was like being in a dunk tank; she was trapped with six other people and had to escape.

“It was wonderful. It was a blast,” she said about those activities, as well as two space shuttle mission simulations.

Blaus also enjoyed going into the classroom as a student instead of a teacher.

She learned how to extract DNA from fruit and how to purify contaminated water.

Her team worked on constructing a heat shield that would prevent a model space shuttle from burning up when returning into the earth’s atmosphere.

Instead of real astronauts, Blaus joked that they used “eggstronauts” on this and other experiments.

She said she wants her kids to learn a model she is bringing back to her classroom: Identify the problem and work through solving it using real-life examples.

The space program promotes encouraging kids to pursue careers in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.

Blaus said she realized at space camp that everything they did there relates to every subject.

“There are no subjects that stand alone,” she said. “I can see right now how your reading, writing and language arts and everything can be a part of it.

“You can excel at STEM and be an artistic or musical person,” Blaus said. “Writing is part of everything. You have to be a good writer and good reader.”

Blaus said the ideas that inspired her through the Honeywell space program made her determined to encourage a lot of other teachers to go.

“The application process was not grueling,” Blaus said. “You benefit in so many ways.”

She created a presentation for anyone interested and is convinced that teachers will be inspired to apply for space camp.

“Every year I look for things like this to do,” Blaus said. “Summer is my time to really do extended learning activities.”

While thinking up plans for summer, Blaus said she is excited to be the teacher for the elementary science club at Case this year.

What are Mrs. Blaus’ plans for next summer break?

“I’m hoping they offer advanced space programs,” she said.

In the advanced programs a lot of the learning happens under water, which is the closest you can come to working in the weightless environment, according to Blaus.

But she already has her eye on another program, the teacher at sea program.

The program takes the teacher out in the field with a group of scientists to collect data for oceanographic research, weather and atmosphere.

“Hopefully next summer I will do that,” Blaus said. “Every summer I like to network with other teachers across the country and world, just to expand my education and inspire my kids to be the best they can be.”