Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 32
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
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Amazing and Inspiring: Princeton Teachers Experience Microgravity First Hand at NASA

Ellen Gilbert

In what Science Supervisor Cherry Sprague described as “an amazing, inspiring opportunity,” five teachers from Princeton Regional Schools recently joined NASA and Department of Energy scientists to discuss and experience “microgravity” [weightlessness in a free fall environment] flights from Houston, Texas.

Funded by the Department of Energy through the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), John Witherspoon Middle School teachers Bill Merritt and Jennifer Simon, and Princeton High School (PHS) teachers Tim Anderson, Joy Barnes-Johnson, and Bob Corell received training on motion sickness control and other engineering and flight safety information; toured the Johnson Space Flight center; and attended the ceremony welcoming home the crew of STS-135, the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program.

Five other teacher groups from around the country participated in the nine-day- long experience. The Princeton contingent personalized their trip by bringing their own ongoing experiment on growing sodium acetate crystals in a weightless environment. The five returned with samples and data to analyze, video footage of rapidly growing crystals, and videos of the group working in weightless conditions.

“Removing gravity from both the experiments and the working conditions familiar on Earth generates astounding, often unexpected realizations about gravity and other forces sure to inspire students in their many classes,” noted Ms. Sprague. 

In a blog maintained by PPPL participants, John DeLopper described the “teacher education curriculum workshop” that took place on the third day of the program. “Today is devoted to having the teachers develop their ideas on just how to bring this wonderful experience to their students,” he wrote. “How can they take this event and the research they will conduct next week and communicate that in their classroom?”

To answer that question, the groups of teachers worked on developing curriculum during the first half of the day, and creating posters that described their respective experiments. “The teachers reviewed each other’s work and voted for the ‘best’ poster,” wrote Mr. DeLopper. The winning team, he reported, was Princeton’s own “Falling Tigers.”

“Princeton Regional teachers are great models as learners and know no boundaries as they explore their subject matter, learn from our nation’s best thinkers and researchers, and return to their classrooms each September with renewed energy, deeper understandings, and fascinating stories to share,” observed Superintendent Judy Wilson. “Our own NASA/PPPL group is a prime example of PRS teachers dedicated to their mission of being the very best teachers and learners our students could ever have.”

“We are also very fortunate to have the resources of PPPL as a constant influence in our world of K-12 education,” added Ms. Wilson. “The ties that PRS has with PPPL have been fostered over many years by Dr. Cherry Sprague and her leadership in teacher education makes a very positive impact on and for her science department.”

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