Clay Middle School teachers expand STEM lessons after NASA conference

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By Desiree Williams

Clay Middle School teachers Steven Sturgis and Derek Dial took their passion for space science to new heights by attending last month’s Space Center Houston’s 25th Space Exploration Educators Conference. The three-day conference caters to teachers of any subject, kindergarten through 12th grade, by providing STEM-based resources and materials.

Carmel Middle School teachers Derek Dial and Steven Sturgis pause with retired NASA aerospace engineer Bill Rothschild. (Submitted photo)

“It was really invigorating being around all these science minds,” Sturgis said. “It ignited my passion for space science.”

Sturgis, a Westfield resident, is a sixth-grade science teacher at Clay Middle School. Fishers resident Dial teaches STEM and automation and robotics for all grades.

Dial first heard of the SEEC while attending Space Academy in Alabama and later asked Sturgis to join him. Clay Middle School’s PTO funded the trip.

Each day of the SEEC began with a keynote speaker, followed by breakout sessions led by teachers from around the world offering mock lesson plans with materials and examples. Sturgis and Dial heard from NASA astronauts, engineers and scientists.

“You’re going to professional development in the coolest environment possible,” Sturgis said.

The teachers also visited the Robotics Lab at the Johnson Space Center, toured the vehicle mock-up facility where astronauts train, explored the Neutral Buoyancy Lab and saw the inside of Mission Control while NASA controllers spoke with crew members on the International Space Station. Sturgis and Dial said hearing the Apollo story directly from retired NASA flight director Gene Kranz was the highlight of their experience.

“The reason we go is obviously that we have a passion, personally, for it, but we also want to capture our students’ minds and capture our students’ interests and understand how important it is to give back to your community and give back to society,” Dial said.

The teachers returned home with materials and lessons plans, which Sturgis said he has already used. They are in the process of compiling information about their experience to share with colleagues.

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