Space Academy program inspires Stricker Middle teacher
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 12:51
 by John G. Bailey

    General John Stricker Middle School science teacher David Hong started his summer off not at the beach, but with five days of professional enrichment at the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
    The academy couples teacher development activities in science with astronaut training in an effort to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education in schools. The need is great. According to the U.S. Education Department, STEM-related jobs grew three times faster than jobs in other fields in the last decade.
    Hong joined more than 200 other teachers from 43 states and 27 countries at this year’s academy, the event’s 10th year. Participants were assigned to groups of 15 teachers. Hong’s group included teachers from Britain, Ireland, Switzerland and Canada.
    Most teachers can point to a former teacher who became a role model. “I had an English teacher in high school that influenced me. She loved teaching and I really enjoyed her class,” Hong said. “But I didn’t decide to teach until well into college.”
    While studying biology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, he discovered teaching while tutoring students and teaching Sunday School at his church.
    Hong, who lives in Columbia, began his teaching career at Old Court Middle School. He transferred after seven years to General John Stricker Middle School, where he has taught biology for the past two years.
    To make science interesting, Hong strives to relate environmental science and other subjects to the real lives of his students. Beyond imparting scientific knowledge, his goal is to awaken a curiosity about the world and a desire to learn.
    Outside the classroom, Hong facilitates an after-school robotics club. “Without a doubt, the robotics club this year was the highpoint of my time at Stricker,” Hong said. In the first round of competition with clubs from other schools, the school’s team received an outstanding achievement award for efficient design and sportsmanship. During the play-offs, the club went on to win the championship with a robotics club  from Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, with whom they were paired.
    As in his classes, hands-on learning with his 14 teammates filled the five days at the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy. In the teacher development segment of the program, Hong’s team engineered a Mars landing craft strong enough to protect an egg that was housed inside it, built a Mars rover and created a heat shield for a re-entry vehicle. During astronaut training, the team operated a simulated space shuttle, made repairs on a simulated space station and moon base, and underwent splashdown re-entry training.
    But what inspired Hong the most were the past attendees at the academy who were invited back to relate how the program had improved their teaching.
    “To me, this was more valuable than the lesson ideas that I received from my experience [at the Space Academy]. It helped reaffirm my focus [as a teacher],” said Hong.
    Hong was asked about Baltimore County’s STEM program. “The county is headed in the right direction,” he said, noting the school and county-wide STEM fairs, after-school clubs and other initiatives.
    Still, Hong finds that too many of his students continue to view math as a “four-letter word.” “They need to see that math is everywhere and is part of their lives,” he said.