Educators Come from Afar to Join Three-day Dawn Conference/Workshop June 28-30, 2007
By Lisa Maxfield, McREL

Educators at Dawn conference pose in front of distant Dawn spacecraft on launch pad 17A.
Educators take time off of bus tour of Kennedy Space Center to pose in front of distant Dawn launch pad 17B on left. Image credit: McREL

Educators from more than 20 states convened in Cocoa Beach, Florida for the Dawn Mission Educator Conference. The three-day conference began on June 28 with a behind–the-scenes bus tour of Kennedy Space Center. Two busloads of participants were able to get a close look at Launch Pads 39 A & B, the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, the Booster Retrieval Ships, and the Crawler Transporter, which transports Shuttle vehicles and travels a whopping 1 mph. Educators caught a glance of the historical “Beach House,” the house where astronauts and their families were able to say their last goodbyes before the astronauts traveled into space. Kennedy Space Center is also a National Wildlife Refuge. One keen-eyed participant spotted an alligator, wild pigs, and two bears. The tour guides also pointed out the famous bald eagle nest.

On June 29, a joint session with the Science Symposium started the day. Dawn’s Principal Investigator Chris Russell presented an overview of the Dawn Mission. Co-Investigator Lucy McFadden shared images and information about Vesta and Ceres and Co-Investigator Marc Sykes presented “What Makes a Planet?”

Dawn PI, Chris Russell and participant discuss Dawn mission.
Dawn Principal Investigator, Chris Russell, UCLA converses with an educator. Image Credit: Univ. of Maryland

Dawn Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) Manager Joe Wise kicked-off the second day of the Educator Conference. Following his introduction, Shari Asplund provided an overview of the Discovery Program and Jacinta Behne provided some history of the making of the Dawn video.

Lucy McFadden then answered questions not only from those present in Florida but also from educators who participated remotely from a conference held at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. Eager to spark girls’ interest in science, educators asked Lucy to share her background and inspiration for becoming a scientist. Lucy replied, “[It] was curiosity that got me here today. I formed a butterfly club in my neighborhood. I wanted to grow up and be a lepidopterist. I didn’t even like science at first, until I did a report on the animal kingdom and I got an “A” on it. So, that always helps. My family helped. Somebody encouraged me and trained me.”

Artist rendering of Dawn spacecraft traveling to asteroid belt to Dr. Lucy, McFadden,Dawn Co-Investigator, Univeristy of Maryland dialogues with conference participants
Dawn Co-Investigator, Lucy McFadden, University of Maryland, dialogues with conference participants. Image credit: McREL

Because the educator participants came from elementary, middle, and high school classrooms as well as informal education settings; they were each given the choice of attending two separate break-out sessions in the afternoon. These sessions were lead by Joe Wise and E/PO team members from Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL).

After the break-out sessions, four scientists who played a key role in the Dawn spacecraft instrumentation treated participants to an overview of design, testing, and use of each instrument. A highlight for many was the presentation by Framing Camera Project Manager Holger Sierks, from Max Plank Institute for Solar System Research (MPS). He passed around a lens and filter similar to those used on the cameras aboard the Dawn spacecraft.

Joe Wise, New Roads School assists participant in Find A Meteorite interactive on Dawn Web site
Joe Wise, New Roads School, demonstrates Find a Meteorite. Image Credit: Univ. of Maryland

Elizabeth Warner, Faculty Research Assistant from the University of Maryland, traveled more than 800 miles from Maryland to Florida with her telescope in the back of her vehicle. On Thursday and Friday evenings, she set up her telescope and participants (along with other visitors at the hotel) observed Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, and of course, Vesta.

The final day featured interactive and hands-on workshops and technology-based activities from which the participants could choose. As a culminating activity to this three-day conference, educators shared with the group positive experiences, lessons learned, and ideas for improvement for future educator conferences. In addition to materials that were presented to them during the Educator Conference, each participant left with a “goodie bag” from NASA, JPL, and McREL. The entire group was given the opportunity to watch the new IMAX movie, “Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D,” which is narrated by Tom Hanks. After the movie, the participants went their own way to explore the rest of Kennedy Space Center. A few of the participants were fortunate enough to hear Apollo 15 astronaut, Al Worden, speak about his experiences.

McREL E/PO Dawn team member facilitates conference session at Educator's Conference, June 30, 2007
Dawn E/PO team member, John Ristvey, McREL, facilitates a conference session on June 30, 2007. Image Credit: McREL

The overall response to the Dawn Educator Conference was extremely positive. One participant commented, “My principal (Centerville High School) agreed that this was probably a ‘Once in a lifetime’ opportunity. I stand by those words. Montana is far from the space operations I present to my students. Those students connect best to photos I’ve taken and things I’ve actually seen, done, touched, and tasted. This experience has been worth every last cent (¢) I’ve spent for the trip.” Participants left the conference with new knowledge and one in particular remarked enthusiastically, “Can’t wait to share these activities with my students and fellow co-workers.”