Indian Express(09-09-2006)

City teacher recalls her NASA experience

JYOTI VENKATESH, a teacher of Physics and Environmental Education at Innisfree House School, has an exceptional credit to her name. She was one among the teachers selected to be a part of the Honeywell Educators Space Programme held at NASA.

It all began in January, she recalls, when she first heard about the programme to be held at NASA in Huntsville, Alabama. "I was a little apprehensive but decided to take the selection test. It was .an online essay writing competition. We had to write three essays on global employment, technology in teaching and classroom experiences and problems faced as a teacher."

"The task was daunting, as the competition was worldwide and all the thoughts had to be written in 600 odd words," she says.

Three months later, she heard from Honeywell informing her that she had been selected after a rigorous scrutiny of more than 100 essays. "It was a joyful moment but I was worried, since the camp was in June when the school would be working. But my Principal, Vice Principal, HOD and my colleagues were very cooperative and helped me at every step in preparing for the camp," she recalls gratefully.

The ten-day camp began on June 16, and 95 Maths and Science teachers from 20 countries attended the camp.

"At the space camp, we were put up at the University of Huntsville and the training activities were held at the Space Center. We were divided into teams of 16 tit„ 17 teachers and our group was called 'Integrity', which had teachers from Romania, Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland and India.

"We were taught new and innovative ways of teaching Maths and Science, performed experiments relating to space, did simulations of 1/6th g force, space tumble, space walk."

"We even simulated flights into space on the space shuttles, 'Atlantis' and 'Discovery'. The icing on the cake was that I played the role of the pilot during the mission. Learning to operate those hundreds of buttons was quite a task," she recollects.

The flight suits that were given to them, similar to those worn by the astronauts, will be a cherished possession, she says.

Apart from the various other activities they underwent, she says 'Toys in Space was the most exhilarating and mentally invig orating activity:. They were asked to design toys that could be used by astronauts in space. They also had the opportunity of meeting Story Musgrave, an astronaut who had been to the space nine times, Conrad Dannenburg, a 92-year-old rocket scientist, who had built his first rocket at the age of 16, and Ed Buckbee from NASA.

They also did video conferencing with NASA and discussed the launch of Discovery. "Apart from the graduation day, sight seeing and shopping, it was wonderful to know and make friends with people from varied backgrounds but belonged to the same teaching fraternity," she says.

Once back in school, her first step was to discuss the implementation of the innovative teaching methods for the benefit of the students.