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Arizona AEM Lisa Love teams up with DAE to inspire kindergartners with aerospace topics

Posted on 08/12/2020 at 12:28 PM by Virginia Smith

Lisa Love, kindergarten teacher, stands in her classroom
Lisa Love enjoys teaching aerospace education concepts to her kindergartners because of the curiosity and hope these concepts inspire.

August 12, 2020

Meet Lisa Love, a kindergarten teacher in a rural Arizona school on the U.S./Mexican border. Although her mother was a teacher, she took a winding journey to her own career as an educator. She loves aerospace education and knows how effective it is in teaching young people. “It has been my experience that when a child is learning about space or space exploration,” she says, “they feel a particular sense of wonder, curiosity, interest, excitement, and most importantly, they feel hope.” This past May for NASA’s SpaceX launch to send astronauts to the International Space Station, she teamed up with Arizona Wing Director of Aerospace Education Maj. Ron Marks (and this month’s featured AEO Story) to lead a Zoom call with her students. We asked her some questions about her education career and involvement with CAP. Her answers follow.

Tell us about your school and your path to becoming a teacher.

I am a kindergarten teacher at H.L. Suverkrup Elementary School in Yuma, Arizona. We are a small Title I school in rural Arizona on the U.S./Mexican border. My mother was a junior high English/speech and drama teacher. I think my second home was her classroom. She often had me help her in the classroom, organize her things, decorate her classroom and help her plan lessons. When it was time for the school play, I was part of the stage crew and basically the director’s (my mom’s) gopher for all things she couldn’t ask a student to do. I didn’t mind that, but for some reason, it made me not want to become a teacher, even though my mother insisted I would someday follow in her footsteps.

My interests took me on a different path that included a bachelor’s degree in sociology and several odd jobs trying to get my foot in the door somewhere. I was fortunate to take about eight years off to be with my two small children. When my youngest was in first grade, I decided to go back to work at a school because my hours would be the same as my children’s schedule. As a paraprofessional/instructional aide, I truly enjoyed working with small groups of children helping them learn to read and write better. I especially loved working with students who are learning English as a second language, and/or have been diagnosed with learning disabilities.

While working with these students, I learned very quickly that when I added STEAM activities to my lesson plans, they learned faster and with much more joy. It was very fulfilling to me to see the lights in their eyes when they understood an English/language arts concept because they were excited about the topic. I was hooked and knew it was time to finally get a teaching certificate.

Now, after a long and winding scenic route, and an M.Ed. with a teaching certification included, I am in my second year of full-time teaching, and I love it. I feel as if I’ve been in education my whole life, and this has just been the next step in my journey. While I wish I was a younger new teacher, I do not regret the path that has led me here. My life experiences only enhance my teaching ability. I currently teach kindergarten and can’t believe how lucky I am to be with those amazing, adorable children who love life and learning.

We are doing remote learning at this time. For the kindergarten team, that means that we prepare lessons a week in advance including our own instructional videos and then we put them up on Google Slides for parents to access daily. I do whole group and small group Zoom meetings with my students. 20 5-year-olds in a Zoom meeting is a little crazy, but their beautiful smiles and energy for life comes across even through a screen, and I’m so grateful. I hope we get to learn together in person soon.

Why do you teach in the aerospace/STEM area?

While I love all types of STEAM, I have a particular love for aerospace/space education. I believe aerospace/space education incorporates all of the sciences -- it’s not just about stars, planets, planes, rockets, astronauts and pilots. We do not achieve flight, whether within the Earth’s atmosphere or outside of it, without contributions from every field of science there is, including behavioral sciences. Getting off of the ground is truly something we must all work together to accomplish. It is an endeavor that needs the differences we all have in order to be a success. 

Moreover, the history of aerospace is not just filled with stories of great success. There are also many stories of great failures. That might sound like a bad thing, but the youth of this world need to see examples of ideas, projects, and events that failed miserably, and then they need to see how it is possible to pick up the pieces of a disastrous disappointment, go back to the drawing board and start again, and again, and again … and again.

It has been my experience that when a child is learning about space or space exploration, they feel a particular sense of wonder, curiosity, interest, excitement, and, most importantly, they feel hope. I am convinced that it is nearly impossible to learn about flight, space exploration, and astronomy without also feeling a sense of hope for the future.

I remember when I first realized the power of aerospace education. Back in 2018, NASA was getting ready to send the InSight lander to Mars. They created a “Names to Mars” program, where individuals could submit their names to be etched on a microchip attached to the lander so that those individuals could “go to Mars.” I had shared this opportunity with my principal, Trish Valentin, who didn’t hesitate to make it a schoolwide opportunity. Every student, teacher and staff member submitted their names, and we all had our “boarding passes” for our “field-trip” Mars.

It was shocking to me, however, to discover how many students didn’t know what Mars even was or how far away it was. We even had some students in tears because they felt they were too afraid to leave their parents for so long. They truly did not understand. The most shocking realization was discovering how many students had never looked up at the stars at night. This was a tragedy to me. My growing up years were extra-challenging, but I always remember lying out on the grass in the backyard at night looking at the stars. On those nights, I felt wonder and hope. Many of our students live in situations without a lot of motivation to have hope in their future. I knew what needed to be done and I decided to put my whole heart into it.

We began to plan more activities centered around space. I was able to find two NASA Engineers who happened to be visiting our area who were willing to come talk to our students. As they shared their stories with our students, I was thrilled to discover they had both learned English as a second language in elementary school and so their stories were particularly inspiring for the majority of our student-body.

I decided to take a chance and submit a letter of intent to NASA to host a downlink with the International Space Station. To my absolute amazement, our school was selected and on March 2, 2018, our whole student body of almost 500 students sat extra quiet for a whole hour in the auditorium as we video chatted with astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Wow! Our whole school seemed to be orbiting with the ISS for days after that.

Students of all grades started sharing their ideas and questions with me. I was still an instructional aide at the time, and so I worked with students all over the school. They would come up to me and say things such as

  • “I looked at the stars last night!”
  • “When I learn about space, I feel like I’m using my whole brain.”
  • “School is so exciting right now!”
  • “I always felt like I was kinda weird because I liked space stuff so much, but now I know I’m not.”
  • “Can I tell you my idea for how to make better space suits?”

The students felt so much excitement that I started looking for more opportunities to learn about aerospace education in order to incorporate it more into my lessons. I also started becoming more involved in the aerospace community. 

How did you become involved with Civil Air Patrol as an Aerospace Education Member (AEM)?

Last Summer (2019) I was selected to attend a NASA Social to watch the Orion Ascent Abort-2 Flight Test launch at Kennedy Space Center. Two weeks after that, I flew to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to attend the Space Across the Curriculum Educator’s Conference hosted by the Space Foundation and funded by Dr. Rochelle Abrams. That was an incredible week of STEM training, and that was where I was first introduced to CAP for educators. I was surrounded by veteran teachers who knew so much more than me and had been involved in CAP for years. They were shocked to find out that I was not a member. I was accepted into the Space Foundation's Teacher Liaison program and again was told of the benefits of belonging to CAP for educators. 

It didn’t take long before I joined CAP in order to be part of this great program. 

(As a side note, two weeks after I returned home from the Colorado conference, I was surprised by a TV show, "Random Acts of Kindness," with a trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. Watch the episode here.)

Tell us how you have worked with the uniformed members of Civil Air Patrol.

When I received the email that I was eligible for a Teacher Orientation Program (TOP) Flight, I submitted my request immediately. Once again, I went to my principal about the TOP Flight and once again, she saw this for the great opportunity it was and joined CAP immediately. We determined that we would do the TOP Flight together and involved the whole student-body.

That was how I was first introduced to Maj. Ron Marks. His dynamic enthusiasm and sincere interest in the success of our school was evident. He was on board to get Mrs. Valentin and me in the air and even arranged for us to be able to fly over the school so that the whole student body could watch from below.

In January, the students at HLS watched their principal “flying” a plane in circles above the school. I will always remember seeing the playground below us filled with those “little ants” of students running and waving to us in the air. What a fun experience for them and for us! That day four other teachers at my school joined CAP and they look forward to their flights as well.

I had applied for and received a scholarship to the Space Exploration Educator’s Conference at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. That conference was held in February 2020. While at the conference, I attended a workshop hosted by CAP and discovered that many of teachers at the conference were also CAP members and had already taken advantage of the great programs associated with CAP for Educators. During the workshop, we were allowed to rotate from table to table in order to try out all of the amazing STEM kits offered by CAP.

What we did, was play! We all had so much fun working with and learning about each of the different STEM kits. It was the perfect way for those hosting the workshop to get teachers excited about what CAP has to offer.

Within a month of the conference, however, school buildings closed and remote teaching began. Last school year I was a pull-out resource teacher with small groups coming to me for ELA and math instruction. During the school closure time, it was difficult to figure out how to incorporate science into my short Zoom sessions along with all of the other demands on a Special Education teacher’s shoulders. Of course, I used scientific topics for reading and writing instruction, but doing projects together with my students was a challenge.

Our last week of school was the last week of May, and NASA had a launch planned for May 27. I was not going to miss out on this chance to give my students an awesome aerospace experience. I planned a Zoom time, inviting all of my students to attend. Maj. Marks had sent an email to Mrs. Valentin and me asking how he could be of service to the school during that time. I thought he might like to join my students and me as we watched the launch and I thought that would add a fun element for my students.

Maj. Marks asked 2nd Lt. Brett Russo to join our Zoom as a rocketry expert.

On the day of the launch, I put on my blue flight suit and went to my classroom to Zoom with my students. Major Marks joined the Zoom with us. Students from first grade to fourth grade, along with their parents and some older siblings, joined in as we waited for the launch.

The launch did not happen.

Maj. Marks, Lt. Russo and I did not miss out on the chance to educate the students about why the launch didn’t take place. It seemed particularly important at that time of the COVID-19 school closures to talk about not losing hope when things don’t work out and being willing to try again.

NASA did try again, and so did we.

Friday, May 29, was the last day of school. That didn’t stop us. On Saturday, May 30, a small group of my students joined together in a Zoom and watched the launch. The students cheered, I cheered. It was exciting.

What does back-to-school look like for you and your school?

We are back in school now and still doing the remote learning. I did gather my kindergartners together in a Zoom on the second day of school to watch NASA launch a rocket to Mars taking their two newest robots, Perseverance and Ingenuity, to the Red Planet. My kindergartners and I sounded out the big word Per-se-ver-ance and then we chanted together “We don’t give up, even when it’s hard” as we watched that rocket launch into space. Even 5-year-olds need to learn this lesson, and NASA gave me the perfect opportunity to make it happen.

I am determined to figure out how to use some of the CAP STEM kits during this remote learning time. Perhaps, at this time of a global pandemic especially, we should be doing even more aerospace education than before. In my classroom, there could very well be a boy or a girl who will go to the moon or to Mars, or will assist in those missions in some way. In my classroom, there could very well be future pilots, astronauts, engineers, innovators and great minds that will change the world, no matter what life path they choose to take. 

In truth, however, whatever my students choose to do in the future is … in the future. I am concerned with right now even more and right now, my number one goal is to give my students a reason to look up, dream and, most importantly, have hope.

Picture of a screen shot of the  Zoom call with the students
Maj. Ron Marks and 2nd Lt. Brett Russo of the Arizona Wing, joined AEM Lisa Love's kindergarten class via Zoom to watch the launch of the NASA SpaceX mission.

 

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