Academic journal article Science Educator

Recipients' Views of the Role of Christa McAuliffe Fellowships in Science Education1

Academic journal article Science Educator

Recipients' Views of the Role of Christa McAuliffe Fellowships in Science Education1

Article excerpt

Results are presented that identify the dimensions of the perceptions of Christa McAuliffe Fellows regarding the impact of their participation on their classroom teaching and the relationship of these dimensions to selected demographic variables.

The world continues to be reshaped by change and technology. Space exploration is central to these changes by providing unlimited opportunities for expanding mankind's understanding of the universe through scientific research. One such farreaching opportunity lies in education's role in the space program. The importance of education in America's space program was clearly defined in 1965 by NASA's first administrator, James E. Webb: "NASA's educational programs and services are generally aimed at college or university levels, but also include space-science material, for elementary and secondary schools to assist in updating classroom instruction and student participation." (Levy, 1965). NASA's Space Education Centers provide motivational materials that are an asset to any teacher's curriculum. Classroom teacher Christa McAuliffe was no exception. She took advantage of these space-science materials as well as her own ideas as a master teacher. She was a visionary teacher who had the capacity to reach out into the future and inspire her students to think critically about the world around them: the world in which they would live and work in the near future.

In addition to being a master teacher, she also wanted to be the first teacher to travel and teach in space. In July 1985, NASA selected Christa McAuliffe to become the first teacher in space (Wilford, 1986). Her dream and mission was intended to reawaken the pioneer spirit in Americans, especially students and teachers, and to demonstrate to the world that the space program was accessible to everyone (Richman, 1986). In effect, this mission was to open space flight to the public and humanize the experience. Unfortunately, this dream never became a reality for Christa because the mission failed. On January 28, 1986, the world watched the Challenger launch at 11:38.03 a.m. with excitement, admiration, and high expectations. However, within two minutes, America's first classroom teacher in space vanished when the Challenger exploded at 11:39.14 a.m. Although Americans were stunned and mourned the loss of Christa McAuliffe and the other six astronauts, America's space program was destined for even bolder ventures. Out of Challenger's ashes, grief, and remorse came a renewed entrepreneurial determination to move full speed ahead and to not disappoint the seven men and women who gave their lives daring to break the bonds of Earth (Reagan, 1986). As a national recognition to America's first teacher in space, the U.S. Congress enacted the Christa McAuliffe Fellowship Program in 1986 (Public Law 99-498,1986). This Program awards a one-year sabbatical to one classroom teacher in each of the 50 states and U.S. territories for study, research, or academic improvement. Upon completion of the Fellowship, the teacher is required to return to the classroom for two years to share the Fellowship experience with other teachers, students, and the educational community at large. It is interesting that NASA announced that the Teacher in Space Program would be resumed (NASA, 2002) less than two months prior to the space shuttle Columbia disintegrating upon re-entry, again postponing a teacher going into space. However, the use of space to motivate science education is at an all-time high.

Need to Teach Critical Thinking Skills

The chief executive officer of Xerox Corporation reported that only a small percentage of young Americans sampled in the "National Assessment of Educational Progress" could reason effectively about what they read and write (Applebee, 1987). These data are alarming because they suggest that the majority of our youth do not have the critical thinking skills needed in an economy that is now based on information and knowledge. …

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