RosevilleJuly 6, 2012
Science teacher goes to space camp, will bring experiences into classroom
By Sara Kandel
C & G Staff Writer
ROSEVILLE — A Roseville resident embarked on a dream vacation this summer when he received a grant that sent him to space camp for a week.
Robert Tonti, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Prevail Academy in Mount Clemens, was one of 81 teachers around the world to receive a Honeywell Hometown Solutions scholarship that covered airfare, room, board and camp fees at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
“This is something I’ve tried for the last few years, and I finally got,” Tonti said. “It was an incredible experience, and the whole thing was astronaut- and space-based.”
Tonti, 49, was chosen for the June 22-28 camp on the strength of an essay he wrote on how he would take his experiences there back to the classroom, and while he had many ideas on how to do that beforehand, he had even more afterward.
“Everything we did we can directly take back to the classroom. We were the students for a week.”
From lectures to labs, Tonti talked about a few of his favorite experiences while at the camp.
“We were put into groups,” he explained. “I was in a group with teachers from China, India, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each group competed against each other in labs. One of my favorite (experiences) was the lunar lander.”
The lunar lander lab is basically an egg drop. Each group is given certain materials — cardboard, duct tape, a plastic bottle, string and a balloon — and must construct a rover. Once the rovers are completed, each team is given an egg to secure inside it, then instructed to drop the device from a roof.
“You got points if your egg didn’t break, and then once it landed, it had to roll down a ramp, and the further it went the more points you got,” Tonti said.
Another favorite was the heat shield. In a similar-style lab, each team had to construct a heat shield from basic materials.
“It’s a lab in engineering, but it’s also about problem solving,” he said. “The key point is learning how to work together to solve a problem.”
His favorite experience was one he can’t really bring back to the classroom, though — the two-hour mock missions.
“The high point had to be the two missions we got to do. For one, I was the base commander at mission control, and I had to monitor the EVA (extra-vehicular activity) and they would throw in anomalies. The red light would go off and I had a manual to look up problems, and I had to trouble shoot while the lights were going off.”
Tonti talked about the experience with almost child-like enchantment and excitement. And that’s the whole point of the program, officials said.
“Inspiring students begins with inspiring teachers,” said Tom Buckmaster, president of Honeywell. “As a leading technology company, Honeywell is committed to promoting science and math education and encouraging the next generation of technologists and engineers. Honeywell Educators at Space Academy helps teachers move beyond the standard math and science curriculum and approach their lessons in new and innovative ways.”
The week culminated with a dinner-dance where Tonti had a chance to try on Neil
Armstrong’s space glove; dance underneath a Saturn 5, one of the rockets used to send the Apollo into space; and meet Buckmaster face to face.
“We started talking, and I told him about the students I teach — how more than 75 percent are on free or reduced lunch, and their families are struggling to make a future for them — and he said, ‘Rob, You can pick two kids and take them to space camp next summer. Honeywell will fund it.’”
Tonti said he was taken aback by the generosity of the offer and is excited to return
to the Honeywell Educators Space at Academy next summer, but when school starts again in the fall, he’ll have to begin the difficult task of deciding whom to bring.
“I teach 120 kids. How do you pick two out of 120? So many of them would benefit from it.”
He says he’ll probably hand that difficult task off to administration and concentrate on bringing all he learned back to his classroom.
“When I start doing Earth science with the eighth-graders, we will be doing both the lunar lander and the heat shield labs,” he said.
For Tonti, that won’t be hard. He’s not a by-the-book teacher. In fact, he says he doesn’t teach out of a book at all. He uses labs and learning packets. That’s why the Honeywell camp experience was so enriching for him. It offered a type of professional development and inspiration that could never be experienced in a book alone.
“For a space fanatic like me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I will take everything back to the classroom.”
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