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Kentucky AEM Kaci Heins is taking CAP back to the classroom with her

Posted on October 13, 2021 at 8:30 PM by Virginia Smith

Kaci Heins poses at Kennedy Space Center

Kaci Heins is a classroom teacher in Kentucky and a former education director at Space Center Houston.

October 13, 2021

Meet Kaci Heins, who teaches science at a public middle school in Shelbyville, Kentucky. She has been in education for 17 years. She just returned to the classroom for her 12th year as a classroom teacher and also has served five years as an education director at Space Center Houston. She is passionate about STEM and space. "I've never seen any content capture the wonder and imagination of children and adults like aerospace," she says. "There is something extraordinary about space that can connect with everyone at some level. Plus, it is just incredibly fun!" She was a member from 2010 to 2016 and rejoined this year because she was returning to the classroom. She's already looking forward to incorporating the hands-on lessons and materials that CAP has to offer as well as reaching out to her local squadron for guest speakers. "I'm excited to be back in the classroom, and even though we have just begun the school year, I know that the CAP resources are going to really enhance the curriculum." We asked her some questions about her career and CAP. Her answers follow.

Tell us about your current school/organization and the grades you teach? What is your role in the school?

I teach 7th- and 8th-grade science at Shelby County West Middle School in Shelbyville, Kentucky. This is a public school system that serves Shelby County.

How many years have you been an educator? 

I have been in education for 17 years. This is my 12th year in the classroom, and I spent five years as an education director at Space Center Houston. 

What is your educational philosophy?

I feel that the greatest impact I can have on my students is to help guide them to see that they can do absolutely anything if they just set goals and work towards their dreams. I am very passionate about STEM and space. I weave it into everything I do in the classroom, and a lot of what I do outside of the classroom. The reason why I love the real world application of space and STEM is that there are so many failure stories! Space exploration is incredibly hard, and the lessons learned can be applied at any age level. However, from those hard lessons there are stories of what astronauts, scientists and engineers learned from those mistakes, improved upon them, and had huge successes for all humankind. 

Why do you teach in the Aerospace Education/STEM area?

I've never seen any content capture the wonder and imagination of children and adults like aerospace. There is something extraordinary about space that can connect with everyone at some level. Plus, it is just incredibly fun! There are always new technological developments, new missions, new discoveries and new opportunities! It is amazing to learn about what we have done in the past and equally thrilling to be working towards the future of exploration. Our current students are the future workforce that will be taking us towards this future. The more we invest in them, the stronger the workforce will be and the brighter the outlook. That is why CAP programs are so important to keep funding and making available to educators. The more inspired educators we have, the more inspired explorers we prepare for the STEM pathway.

Please list awards/honors/achievements you have received as an educator that you would like to include. 

Kaci Heins poses with astronaut Mike Massimino

Kaci Heins and astronaut Mike Massimino

  • Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award from Space Foundation, NASA and Astronaut Memorial Foundation - 2020

  • Space Center Houston Education Leadership Award - 2017

  • PBS Digital Learning Media Innovator - 2016

  • Flagstaff Arts Council Viola Award Winner for Excellence in Science Education - 2016

  • Arizona Science Teachers Association Middle School Teacher of the Year - 2015

  • Southeast Missouri State University Young Alumni Award - 2015

  • American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics Educator Achievement Award - 2015

  • Top 5 Finalist for Arizona Teacher of the Year – Arizona Ambassador for Excellence - 2014

  • Flagstaff STEM City Teacher of the Year - 2014

  • Air Force Association National Aerospace Teacher of the Year Award - 2014

  • Air Force Association Arizona Teacher of the Year Award - 2014

  • Air Force Association Prescott Chapter Teacher of the Year Award - 2014 

How many years have you been involved in Civil Air Patrol?

I believe I joined in 2010 and was a member until 2016. I joined again this year when I knew I was going back into the classroom.

How did you get involved in the Civil Air Patrol AEM program?

I met Susan Mallett of the National Headquarters AE team at an NSTA conference, and she told me all about it! I was hooked and wanted to be involved! She truly changed my life for the better! I was the CAP ACE teacher of the year in 2011. My students loved all of the CAP lessons, we had guest speakers come and talk to the students, and I was able to take the class out to the airport to sit in the CAP plane. This was a big deal as many of these students had never left Flagstaff, Arizona, let alone go inside of a plane. From there, I continued to incorporate CAP and collaborated with the local squadron. We collaborated on some projects including a search and rescue for one of our high altitude balloon launches in 2015, I believe. They flew a mission searching for our landed parachute and payload outside of Flagstaff. It was so much fun and a great experience for the students to learn more about CAP.

Please describe the Civil Air Patrol programs you participate in and why you participate. 

Since I now teach older students, I've signed up for AEX and the STEM kit -- specifically, the Sphero robotics kit because these awesome robots are going to help the students learn how to code and acquire data for our physics unit this winter.

What do you and/or your students like about Civil Air Patrol programs/materials?

I love that there are a diversity of STEM Kits. There is something for everyone that can tie into their passion or strengths. From rocketry, to robotics to simulators, there are so many incredible opportunities to make real world and STEM career connections. I also love how supportive the educator community is. It has really grown over the years with fantastic teachers who all have incredible ideas. I see so much support and positive encouragement from everyone, which is much-needed during these times and in education. The students love the curriculum because they always know they are going to do something hands-on and fun. In the past I have tried to bring in as many guest speakers as possible so they can ask questions of the subject matter experts.  I have tried to tie in as many aerospace-related field trips as possible.

What is the best advice you have for a new AEM working with CAP programs and materials?

Take it one lesson at a time! There is always plenty of time to incorporate the lessons during the year as I completely understand what is on everyone's plate. Try to find connections between the content you are teaching and the CAP lessons. This always makes it more fun, and inviting any guest speakers really takes it to the next level -- even if they are virtual. Reach out to the CAP community if you need help and just have fun! Dare Mighty Things!

Please tell an anecdote of a rewarding experience you have had working with students or colleagues using CAP programs:

I would have to go back to taking my fifth-grade class out to the airport to see the CAP plane. I remember the CAP senior member was so patient with the kids. Every student got to sit up front, and he went over all the controls with them. Like I stated before, many of these kiddos had never left the city, and I remember them talking about the experience for weeks afterwards. It meant a lot to them and watching it all unfold meant the world to me.

Is there anything we didn't ask that you'd like to say?

I'm excited to be back in the classroom, and even though we have just begun the school year, I know that the CAP resources are going to really enhance the curriculum. I can't wait to incorporate the hands-on lessons and stem kits during our physics unit, and I've got some great guest speakers in mind! The sky is not the limit for our students, and I'm excited to Dare Mighty Things with CAP!

Kaci Heins poses in front of Rocket display Kaci Heins teaching students

Teacher Kaci Heins believes aerospace content captures the wonder and imagination that helps children and adults learn.


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