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Stillwater Elementary exhibits a space shuttle tile, and inspires new programs in science, technology and robotics

  • Written by Leanne Christensen, RSD

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The space shuttle tile team leaders at SWE: L to R – SWE librarian Mary Roberts, parent volunteer Lloyd McCracken and PTSA science docent/LRC volunteer Pam Deming. Courtesy photo
In March of 2012, Stillwater Elementary parent Lloyd McCracken not only helped SWE librarian Mary Roberts acquire a NASA space shuttle thermal protection tile, he also built a display case to hold the inspiring 1/72 scale model (which he also built) of the space shuttle Discovery.

Mr. McCracken, a strong advocate for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) educational program, has been a regular volunteer at Stillwater.

He is passionate about each and every facet of the educational process and has  been an impressive addition to the SWE PTSA Science Docent program.

The authentic space shuttle tile was released by NASA to Stillwater Elementary on permanent loan, and was originally unveiled at Stillwater’s annual math night event, with the hope of inspiring students this year and  for many years to come.

Roberts explains, “We ask our students to think of the space shuttle orbiter as a big puzzle with each of the heat shield tiles a puzzle piece.  Each thermal protection system tile is assigned a serial number identifying where on the orbiters they are to be installed, explaining to them that each tile is individually made to fit a specific location.”

Mr. McCracken is very excited about this program and has extended an invitation to all Riverview schools to apply for a NASA space shuttle tile. His aim is to encourage and inspire more students to improve the content knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math. He says, “With these programs we hope to create a strong emphasis in learning environments hands- on, experiential, inquiry based and learner-centered student experiences including engineering design processes, and to support teachers and students to experience the thrill of exploration and learning of STEM.”

He continues, “I got the idea of creating a focus on aerospace themes with the goal of getting the kids interested in how things work with the shuttle model as a focal point. I also purchased a book for the library on the shuttle and Apollo Lunar Lander in an effort to create a core for them to build from. The shuttle thermal tile is the main anchor for this effort.”

Lloyd’s already imposing volunteer journey at Stillwater was reinforced when he found himself helping a student (who was not a strong/interested reader) in the library. After talking with the student Lloyd learned of the student’s passion for World War II stories, so he sought to find books on this subject, brought them in and began reading them with the student during his volunteer times in the library. Lloyd was delighted to see the new-found joy and passion for reading exhibited by the student. It is not surprising that Lloyd was this year’s recipient of the SWE PTSA “Heart of the Hawk” volunteer award. His inspiring volunteer efforts have made a significant impact on not only the students, but on parents and staff as well.

The space shuttle tile program is just one of many passionate scientific efforts that Lloyd is involved in.  He also has plans to use “Robotix” kits as a way of introducing concepts of engineering for “purpose” to Stillwater students.

The intention is to expose students to the latest events happening in science/space news, Lloyd shares this example: “SpaceX automated Dragon capsule that was launched then docked with the ISS using the station’s robotic arm to capture it, Dragon then returned to earth with more cargo than it delivered to the space station. Also, classes were introduced to the Mars Curiosity Rover, that is currently in transit to Mars and will be landing in August!”

Both of these programs were followed up with a “build it” phase, in which Mr. McCracken guided the classes in reproducing the vehicles/rockets and space station with the Robotix Modular Construction System. He continued, “The students were very intrigued with this process and wanted to build more!”

A goal for future science programs at Stillwater is to create a STEM club.Lloyd explains, “This would be similar to the current special interest groups that are addressing student interests and current events in science and technology.  The club would have a focus on the “hands on” approach, introducing STEM concepts and allowing the kids to finish a thought or idea and see it through with continued guidance and encouragement.”

Mr. McCracken and the space tile program have been so overwhelmingly received that he has shared the details of this program with other staff members in Riverview. To date Tolt Middle School has received their shuttle tile, Cedarcrest High School has received theirs, and Cherry Valley Elementary is in the process of requesting theirs as well!

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