Jacoby, a general-science teacher for about 150 fifth and sixth graders in the program for gifted students at Elkins Park Middle School, was one of 20 teachers chosen from among more than 800 nationwide. The program was held at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Lewis Research Center in Cleveland.
Sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Science Teachers Association and the International Technology Educational Association, the seminar was a crash course in how to teach about space, said R. Lynn Bondurant, chief of NASA's Office of Educational Programs at the Lewis center. NASA pays the price of the program, hoping that teachers and their students will spread the word about NASA's work during these times of limited space exploration.
Jacoby said the program was filled with insights for her and offered her access to a new world of material and ideas. Her students will be among the few in Pennsylvania to have an authentic space suit and lunar rocks at their disposal.
"I'm not an expert in aerospace, so I was in awe of everything I saw," she said. She added that she planned to use her new knowledge to help students develop their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills while demystifying a complex topic.
One of the first problems Jacoby's group faced was baking brownies. How does one make a compact contraption that can add oil and water to brownie mix, then blend and bake, all without the benefits of gravity?
Without actually performing the experiment, the group decided that the cook's feet had to be strapped to the floor with Velcro, the blending must be done by hand, and the baker had to make as little mess as possible because, in space, no one can wash dishes.
One of the hardest problems was preventing the brownie mix from floating around in zero gravity, Jacoby said. If that weren't enough, the whole contraption had to be secure enough to survive a bone-jarring liftoff, she said.
To better enable young students to understand the complex problems of space, NASA also supplied the teachers with videotapes of a Slinky and yo-yos at work in a weightless environment, she said.
NASA's Educational Workshop For Elementary Teachers brings teachers to five sites across the nation each summer.
"We want them to know the importance of NASA's mission to planet Earth," he said. "Hopefully, the teachers become a resource for NASA."