Amundsen gives a presentation at Kennedy Space Center

July 24, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF — A local educator presented at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first-ever Space Port Area Conference for Educators earlier in July.

For three days, educators from around the country converged at Kennedy Space Center to learn more about science. technology, enginteering, arts and math (STEAM), and how they can improve their work both in and out of the classroom to educate their students during SPACE July 11-13.

Jon Amundsen, a sixth-grade teacher at Bluffs Middle School and Nebraska Space Ambassador, was one of a select group of presenters at SPACE.

Amundsen has been a Nebraska Space Ambassador for the past six years. Amundsen became an ambassador after his name was found through his attendance at a space educator conference he attended years ago. After encouragement to apply to be an ambassador, Amundsen submitted a proposal, which was accepted. Along with 12 other ambassadors in the state, Amundsen’s job is to learn about a variety of STEAM activities through attending NASA-related workshops, then share that knowledge with other educators to help better inform the state and local communities on STEAM. NSA is a part of the NASA Nebraska Space Grant Consortium.

When the conference was seeking presenters, Amundsen was asked to submit a proposal to speak at SPACE. Since he teaches a robotics course and space course at BMS, he proposed teaching a session on robotics.

His proposal was accepted, and Amundsen presented alongside another Nebraska educator to teach conference attendees about a challenge course simulating a mission to Mars.

Although Amundsen submitted his proposal to teach one session, he ended up being placed onto two other presentations, teahcing three sessions overall.

On top of teaching his robotics course, he co-taught a session on bringing a space camp to classrooms and communities and another session on creating a working model of the NASA glove box used on the International Space Station.

Amundsen wasn’t the only Nebraska educator to attend the conference, though.

Nebraska played a large role in the conference, acting as the facilitators for the conference and heavily promoting SPACE.

Nebraskan educators sent in a proposal to spearhead the event, despite being located over 1,800 miles away from Kennedy Space Center.

The proposal was accepted, and Nebraskan educators were placed in charge of several facets of the event.

“We were awestruck to be asked, (for them) to even accept our proposal,” he said. “It’s a great honor for us Nebraska teachers,” he said.

SPACE, hosted by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, was the first of its kind and brought in educators from all across the country.

In order to attend the conference, all attendees were required to be a United States citizen and a K-12 or informal educator.

Those attending the conference were able to listen to presenters from different areas of the STEAM field — from educators to astronauts — tour the grounds on and around Kennedy Space Center, earn certification to borrow lunar and meteorite sample disks and take part in the Astronaut Training Experience.

Keynote speakers included veteran astronauts, the director of Kennedy Space Center and a professor of physics and space sciences.

Educators could attend sessions like learning how to put on a space camp in their community, teaching students about the International Space Station, hydroponics and careers with NASA.

Nicholle Lang, a sixth-grade teacher at Geil Elementary in Gering, was one of hundreds of teachers who attended the conference.

Lang was able to attend the conference thanks to a grant from the State of Nebraska.

“I found about the conference in April and knew I wanted to go,” she said. “I applied to be a grant recipient without thinking I’d actually be able to go, but I was so excited when I was told I was going.”

The grant, earned by 14 different educators throughout Nebraska, covered the conference registration fee and $400 of travel.

For Lang, one of her biggest takeaways was the number of hands-on activities to encourage students to find new ways to think.

“STEAM is nothing new but something I was shown how to easier implement in my classroom with different levels of students and activities,” she said.

The conference also provided a great opportunity for educators to network with one another.

“I was able to connect with educators from all over the United States and now I have some great people I can reach out to and ask questions or get insights on how they are doing things,” Lang said.

For Amundsen, presenting at Kennedy helped remind him of the importance of teaching STEAM and how passionate he is about the subject area.

“It ignited my fire again,” he said.

As for next year?

“I will definitely be submitting another proposal,” he said.

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