Local teachers attend Space Exploration Educators Conference in Houston

Published 3:23 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

By Jay Compton



A group of teachers from Middlesboro Independent Schools were able to attend the Space Explorations Educators Conference (SEEC) in Houston last week accompanied by astronaut John Shoffner.

They attended STEM-related learning sessions, heard from keynote speakers, networked with other educators and participated in hands-on activities and tours with the goal of developing new STEM programs for their classrooms.

“This experience will prove instrumental in enhancing their professional development and enriching their teaching practices,” Middlesboro Superintendent Waylon Allen said. “We are deeply grateful to John Shoffner and the Perseid Foundation for sponsoring our team and providing them with the invaluable opportunity to attend the SEEC.”

Middlesboro teachers Jennifer Lewis, Amanda Estes, Charlie Thomas, Michael Wilson and Nick Shoffner attended the event.

During the trip to the Houston Space Station, John Shoffner arranged a tour of the Axiom Space facility for the teachers. They were able to get a live look at what it takes to create a lasting presence in space. They noted how incredible it was to see the spectrum of positions and skills it takes to successfully build a spacecraft.

Nick Shoffner, who teaches Algebra I at MHS, said it was a great opportunity to be around educators who were familiar with STEM education. He was able to gain insight into how to better implement STEM into the classroom.

“When you think of space you think of rocket scientists, engineers and astronauts and those can be really hard careers to get into. The coolest part of our tour at Axiom Space was seeing all of the other brilliant people that it takes,” he said. “We saw carpenters making modules out of wood, guys that were welding to actually put together spaceships, interior designers that were working on how to lay out the inside.

“There are a lot of different jobs and different opportunities in the field of space exploration. That was really eye-opening. There are a lot of vocations that are still relevant to space and I’d like to use space to get more kids interested in a career and really peak their interest in the classroom.”

On the SEEC’s last day John and Nick Shoffner attended a leadership series in cultivating a positive STEM Ecosystem where they were able to meet with individuals and work to create a vision for STEM programs. While also diving through the multitude of resources available through NASA and working partners.

Charlie Thomas and Jennifer Lewis attended a session on cross-curricular STEM projects. This one focused on building a mini golf course and coding Sphero robots using block coding.

Amanda Estes attended a session where she observed the birth of stars until they go supernova and translated that to a human graph to represent the life cycles of stars.

Michael Wilson observed the historical development of spacecraft at the housing site of the Saturn V Rocket and analyzed the engineering developments over time in relation to space craft.