After a decade of teaching, Vassalboro Community School science teacher Tom Nadeau decided his class instruction needed a jolt.

The answer: attending the Space Academy.

Winslow middle school science teacher Sarah Hardy told him about the program, which both she and Winslow High School Principal Chad Bell have attended.

“It was a unique opportunity to become a better teacher,” Nadeau said. “It was an experience I could take back to the kids and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s out there, this is what you can do.’ Anything I can do to help me relate to students, I’m all for it.”

Nadeau, 34, attended the five-day event in June in Huntsville, Ala., nicknamed the Rocket City because of its history with U.S. space missions, including developing the Redstone Rocket, which helped set the stage for America’s space program.

Why the Space Academy? While it’s easy to stick with the same routine each year as a teacher, you can’t afford to do that, he said.

“You want to continue to tweak and change things to help inspire and motivate kids,” said Nadeau, who’s also the Skowhegan Area High School varsity basketball coach. “Teaching as a profession changes over time. I want to keep up with that change and not get stuck in a monotonous routine.”

“It’s what we call a guaranteed winner with kids — space technology — they love that stuff,” said Eric Haley, superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which serves Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro schools. “You get a week of applied science training at no cost to us. It’s an unbelievably positive experience.”

The Space Academy, in its ninth year, was started by Honeywell International, a New Jersey-based technology and manufacturing company. This year the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy learning program invited 210 math and science middle school teachers from 27 countries and 42 states to participate in 45 hours of professional development. All expenses are covered by Honeywell Educators, and the teachers stay in dormitories at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

“The typical day was anywhere between 12 and 15 hours,” Nadeau said. “It would be anything from workshops or challenges. They also had guest speakers for us.”

Nadeau said retired astronaut Robert Gibson spoke to the group, as did Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer and author of “Rocket Boys,” which the movie “October Sky” was based on.

Nadeau showed off a signed copy of “Rocket Boys” with a motivational quote from Hickam.

“Don’t let good enough be good enough,” Nadeau said, reciting the inscription, adding, “It’s something I like to use when I’m coaching, too.”

At the Space Academy, Nadeau took part in simulations that resemble what astronauts do to prepare for space travel. Nadeau said he was base commander on the moon-landing simulation and shuttle commander for their shuttle simulation.

It’s these innovative ways at looking at his subject that he’s hoping to bring back to the Vassalboro classroom.

“Rocketry is something I want to look more into doing,” Nadeau said. “We did it before and it was a ton of fun.”

While the activities, missions and hands-on application of science were exciting and worthwhile for Nadeau, it’s the cultural exposure he received that will resonate.

“The one thing that really stood out was the international experience that I had,” Nadeau said. “In our group we had someone from Vietnam, South Africa, Czech Republic and Ireland. We had people from Hawaii, Utah, Minnesota and California. It was a great mixture from people all over the world.”

Nadeau said there was no trouble connecting or communicating with his foreign colleagues, as they all spoke a universal language.

“The thing about science is, it doesn’t change,” Nadeau said. “The history of science is what everybody knows, so it was nice to have that in common.”

Nadeau filled out the application in the fall, and during the process had to answer a number of questions.

“It asked what motivates you, what inspires you, why you want to go to the camp,” Nadeau said. “For me, I’m 10 years into my career and I was looking for some kind of change of pace.”

As for scheduling an actual lunar trip for Nadeau, he’ll still pass.

“As a science teacher, I would love to go to the moon,” he said, “but I don’t think I could handle a trip up there.”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239
[email protected]

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