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Ex-Astronaut Enthralls Kids to Inspire Future Engineers

Kent Gardens celebrates new program to grow engineers.

 A former astronaut enthralled an auditorium brimming with kids and adults  at Kent Gardens Elementary Wednesday with stories of space travel.

"It takes 8 1/2 minutes to get into space after liftoff," said Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper armed with movies of her space trips and dressed in her U.S Navy uniform. After you take off your spacesuit, "You start bumping into things. You lose things because they float," she said as the objects floated away in the movie playing behind her.

All this talk about space was really about stirring the imaginations of elementary school boys and girls to become engineers. This is Engineering Week at Kent Gardens, part of the school's new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program in which all students participate.

"We want them to be engineers because engineers make our lives easier and they protect us," said assistant principal Ramona Gavin.

About 500 very well-behaved children sat on the floor ringed by parents and teachers as Stefanyshyn-Piper spun stories of the adventure of space.

"I made two flights" to work  with the international crews that are assembling Earth's first base in outer space. She celebrated Thanksgiving in space.

The space station is about the size of a three bedroom house, she said.

The weightlessness is fun. You sleep in a sleeping bag that's strapped to a wall or to the ceiling. You exercise (strapped in) because you're going to need those muscles back on earth. 

 "The neatest thing about being in space is looking out the window," she said. "It's such a pretty place to be."

Dranesville school board member Jane Strauss sounded like one of the students when she told the crowd, "This is such an exciting morning. Just shaking hands with someone who's been in space is so exciting."

Stefanyshyn-Piper an undergraduate and master of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984, and a Technology. She retired from NASA, the space agency,  and now works for the Naval Sea Systems Command. Yesterday's program  kicked off a hoped-for partnership between Kent Gardens and this Navy Command which runs the Carderock, Md facility that tests the sea-worthiness of ships.

That partnership will lead to field trips plus legos and computer-controlled robots, assistant principal Gavin said.  Teaching the kids how to build remote-controlled vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Defense employs more engineers that anyone else in the country, Gavin said. Baby Boomer engineers start retiring en masse next year (when the oldest turn 66) and more will retire each year. Our country needs to replace them with engineers who are U.S. citizens because of the new standards for security clearances.

"When you grow up you will have to solve problems, we never thought of," Strauss told the kids.

Jillian James February 25, 2011 at 12:51 AM
I am not sure that this a fair characterization of Kent Gardens. There are many very positive things about the school that make it a good school...one that is aspiring to constant improvement. I do not understand the STEM Spending Time Earning Money reference. It would be wonderful if everyone who has an interest in what is best for the students spent time working together and less time...making comments that are really not productive but rather negative to no positive end. The entire community needs to be involved and from what I can see the community is very active. I see many very positive things taking place. Let's work together rather than wasting time on blame and lists and ambiguous references to what is wrong. The students need the adults to work together.
Christiane Lourenco February 25, 2011 at 01:35 AM
Tracy, your comments reflect an very misinformed idea behind the Engineering/STEM initiative at Kent Gardens. Let me educate you and hopefully you can come to agree that this is actually a VERY GOOD initiative for our children (my two included)!! As there is a limit to the # of characters allowed in the Comment field, this will be provided in smaller sections. Engineering at Kent Gardens is about integrating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education into the K-6 curriculum for all students. Why do we need an Engineering Program? - To provide our students with crucial understanding of building and designing - To motivate learning of math and science concepts that make technology possible - Elementary school students enjoy hands-on and creative work involved in engineering - Early intervention will increase students’ interest and competency in STEM Isn’t engineering too complex to teach in elementary school? - Integrated curriculum provides basic exposure to STEM fields as theme around which to engage all core subjects - Topics of science and math, basic exposure to elements of design, and introduction to engineering and technology as a tool of learning are woven into entire curriculum - Combination of hands-on lessons, rich exposure to technology, and interdisciplinary approach to curriculum helps prepare our students for further education
Christiane Lourenco February 25, 2011 at 01:43 AM
CONTINUED....Engineering at Kent Gardens is about integrating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education into the K-6 curriculum for all students. How will the experience of students at Kent Gardens change? - Classrooms, lessons, & school culture will highlight engineering/STEM as theme within all core subjects - In each classroom, at any level and in any subject, students will actively learn through discovery and hands-on lessons How will this benefit the students at Kent Gardens? - American students are falling behind in subjects of math and science - Ability of US to compete in global economy depends on ability to produce generation of STEM-related employees - Beyond STEM-specific careers, employers in every field are looking for employees who can work effectively with others to creatively solve problems; these skills are particularly highlighted in a STEM education - Provide students with STEM education today to help prepare them for the future
Jillian James February 25, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Thank you so much for all of the information on the STEM program at Kent Gardens. The issue is critical to the success of our children. Often there is an either/or component to "The Basics" vs. creative problem solving, innovation and higher level thinking. Creative problem solving is not possible without the basics. The basics are a given and should not be the focus. The basics in and of themselves do not constitute a quality 21st Century Education. Rather than going back to the basics, we should be moving forward to the future. I applaud the leadership and the community of Kent Gardens for their understanding and support of STEM education. It is true that I am not a parent of a student at Kent Gardens. I am a grandparent of a former (moved onto Longfellow) and a current student. I am also an educator and have been involved in education as a teacher, administrator, program and curriculum developer and parent. I tend to be very interested in my grandchildren and what is happening with them at school. I also scrutinize what I see. Frankly, I had a bias against public schools given that I spent my entire education in private schools (all girl Catholic Schools)..taught in private and international schools and promoted independent schools as a consultant and school developer. I have had the opportunity to visit many schools around the world both public and private and remain impressed with the courage and innovation and genuine move forward at Kent Gardens.
Bill Tarzell February 26, 2011 at 02:38 AM
The program this week at Kent Gardens was a terrific example of exposing children to cross-curricular, real life projects. This is exactly what an excellent school does. Kent Gardens continues to go above and beyond to make sure our students are getting the very best. I am not sure what that crazy lady is talking about, but she clearly has never stepped foot in the wonderful learning environment that is... Kent Gardens ES.
Bill Tarzell February 26, 2011 at 02:41 AM
What are you talking about? Kent Gardens brought in a role model, NASA astronaut to teach students about science, math and engineering. She was educated at MIT. She has inspired my daughter who now is asking to go to a science museum to learn more about space flight. I just looked at your blog. You clearly hate Kent Gardens. If you have kids there, pull them out. There are other options for you!!!
Christiane Lourenco February 28, 2011 at 04:56 PM
Please visit http://www.greatschools.org/virginia/mclean/521-Kent-Gardens-Elementary-School/ & read the Overview, Reviews & Test Scores/Stats for KG as well as other elementary schools. Do other elementary schools in McLean rank higher, yes. But you have to look at the whole picture. Yes, Grade 3 SOL Reading score was low, but Grade 4 SOL Reading score was 100% & remained at 99% thru Grade 6. Every child is different & learns at different levels, no matter how good the school/teacher. My kids were late readers, but you know what? They're great readers now & that's what's important. As for reviews - are all of them great? No. But when you read online reviews for anything from schools to cars/offee machines there are always people with bad experiences. There is no perfect school-even other McLean elementary schools have some less than perfect reviews. Could KG be better? Yes, but that's true of any school. Does KG strive to be better? In my humble opinion, yes (i.e., KG offers an afterschool SOL Remediation club which one of my kids - who recently tested out of Special Ed. Services thanks to the wonderful team at KG! - was offered.) This to me is a wonderful service to offer to students. But I know of some parents who don't like it because it interrupts certain afterschool activities. Well, this is proof of an old saying.."you can't please everyone". Which is true in all aspects of life & must be kept in mind when reading any type of review.
Christiane Lourenco February 28, 2011 at 06:55 PM
These comments are no longer directly related to the original article. Any further comments I have regarding SOL scores will be posted to the peelbacktheapple blog, specifically in response to Ms. Trelser's reply comment.

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