Books

Article Critique: “Together we are better”: Professional learning networks for teachers

As I continue to get closer to starting the process of my dissertation, I am finding works that really piqued my interest and connect with my passion for improving teaching practices. This summer, I took the class EDUC-R685 Technology Integration in Theory and Practice with Dr. Anne Leftwich. She introduced me to the work of Torrey Trust, Daniel Krutka, and Jeffrey Carpenter. Their work in social media, online PLNs, and teacher professional development falls extremely well in line with my areas of practice and future research interests.

I am currently finishing up my classwork for EDUC-Y520 Strategies for Educational Inquiry and was asked to do an article critique related to my area of interests. I chose to critique a more recent article by Trust, Krutka, and Carpenter:

Trust, T., Krutka, D. G., & Carpenter, J. P. (2016). “Together we are better”: Professional  learning networks for teachers. Computers & education, 102, 15-34.

I developed a rubric based on Creswell’s (2015) Six Steps in the Process of Research (indexed at the bottom of this post) and used that rubric to evaluate the article. Here is my article critique:

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”document/d/1C3pZXbtFZJWmnFgdQt15nf5uznPOFVFitExFeR2Alb4/pub” query=”embedded=true” width=”880″ height=”1200″ /]

Rubric Used:

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Links to both texts if you want a pdf view:

Article Critique

Article Critique Rubric

Image courtesy of: Mathieu Plourde

Could online PLNs be valuable for all teachers?

One of the research projects I was working on this summer was trying to answer this question: Could online PLNs be valuable for all teachers?

I’ve often heard teachers promote the use of social media based on their own personal experiences and not based on research. In answering this question, I wanted to see what the research showed as effective or not effective in online PLNs and the use of social media for teachers. Probably not surprising to teachers that frequently use social media was that teachers feel less isolated or lonely, develop a sense of camaraderie, and connect to valuable resources.

One thing I found very interesting was the type of tool used had an impact on the effectiveness. The studies I found primarily examined Twitter, Facebook, and Edmodo. Of these, Twitter and Facebook had positive results for developing an effective online PLN, whereas Edmodo didn’t appear to be very effective.
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Link here: Could online PLNs be valuable for all teachers

My paper is linked here so you can see the whole work. I still need to do some revisions to get it up to publication standards, but I welcome any feedback readers want to offer. Do you think online PLNs are valuable for all teachers?

 

Photo courtesy of F Delventhal

Thoughts on Knowledge for Technology Integration

This week in my current class, Teacher Tech Integration and Professional Development, we were asked to make a visual representation of some knowledge or entry-level skills teachers need for technology integration. I decided to use Google Docs and Google Drawings then made a screencast explanation (embedded below).

In the video, I make a reference to Ertmer. Here is the main article I am referencing; it is a seminal work in technology integration in education:

Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first-and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development, 47(4), 47-61.

If you have an interest in the topic, I suggest you read the work of Peg Ertmer  or some of the more recent work by Ertmer and Anne Ottenbreit-Leftwich.

Visual Representation
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Screencast:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbEs7t17JxQ?rel=0]

More Thoughts on Student Technology Teams

In a recent post, I asked the question “Can a Student Technology Team Help Build Teacher Self-Efficacy in Technology Use in the Classroom?”. Not surprisingly, I am not the only one asking that question.

Education is a complex social system with many stakeholders. Therefore, for effective technology integration, we should consider all these stakeholders, including students (Su, 2009). In fact, Martinez (2009) points out that the only resource in abundance in schools is students.

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3rd Grader Kate teaches Indiana University preservice teachers on some uses of iPads in the classroom.

In Indiana, we have the Hoosier Student Digital Leaders (HSDL), part of the Office of eLearning and the Indiana Department of Education, that provides resources to schools and districts that are “supporting digital citizenship in their school in the form of student technology teams.”

In the HSDL Google+ Community, there are 101 schools listed across Indiana that have self-identified as having some sort of student technology team. The community serves as a good way for group leaders to collaborate and share with other group leaders. The HSDL also hosts a student-led conference each year for students to gain presenting skills as well as share new ideas to the community.

GenYES is another organization that finds student technology teams an effective model of professional development for technology integration. With the goal of developing students as leaders in technology knowledge and integration, GenYES has a modeled a successful program by training students to be mentors for teachers (Martinez, 2009). Their website states it very succinctly: “We believe that teams of well-prepared K-12 students are the key strategy for realizing meaningful technology integration.” (Generation YES, 2016).

Examples of GenYES projects include having the GenYES student come into the classroom and help younger students create and edit movies or having a student create a website template for a teacher to use with students (Martinez, 2009).

But, does this help?

GenYes found, of the GenYES participants, 99% agreed that it was a good method to support teachers and 3 in 5 teachers stated that GenYES made integrating technology “more comfortable”. (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 2010). In another study, Zhao, et al. (2006) found that the GenYES program produced several factors that enhance technology integration. They are: time to experiment, a focus on student learning, the building of social connections and learning communities, and localizing or personalizing professional development. Hew and Brush (2007) also found these elements as helpful for overcoming technology integration barriers.

Schools are also using these technology teams as cost-effective technology repair services (Martinez, 2009). The perceived lack of technical support by teachers is a major barrier to technology integration (Gilakjani, 2013). These technology teams can alleviate the frustration caused by lack of technical support.

I believe that well-managed student technology teams are a win-win for both staff and students. Staff gain inexpensive technical support and training while students grow in their leadership skills (Wan et al., 2010). Therefore, maybe a better question is, “What elements of a Student Technology Team successfully build self-efficacy in teachers?” The results of that could help mentor/leaders more effectively build their student technology team. What do you think those elements would be?

References:

Generation YES. (2016). Genyes.org. Retrieved from http://genyes.org

Gilakjani, A. (2013). Factors contributing to teachers’ use of computer technology in the classroom. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 1(3), 262-267.

Hew, K. F., & Brush, T. (2007). Integrating technology into K-12 teaching and learning: Current knowledge gaps and recommendations for future research.Educational Technology Research and Development, 55(3), 223-252.

Martinez, S. (2009) Student-Centered Support Systems to Sustain Constructivist, Technology-rich Learning Environments. IFIP WCCE 2009. Retrieved from http://www.ifip.org/wcce2009/proceedings/papers/WCCE2009_pap84.pdf

Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (2010). GenYES 2009–2010 national evaluation data. Retrieved from http:// genyes.com/media/2007custeval/National _NWREL__2006-07.pdf

Su, B. (2009). Effective technology integration: Old topic, new thoughts. International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology, 5(2), 161-171.

Wan, T. Y., Ward, S. E., & Harper, D. (2010). The Power of Student Learning Through Leading. Principal Leadership, 10(6), 68-71.

Zhao, Y., Frank, K. A., & Ellefson, N. C. (2006). Fostering meaningful teaching and learning with technology: Characteristics of effective professional development. Meaningful learning using technology: What educators need to know and do, 161-179.

More resources from GenYES can be found here.

A Disney-fied Lesson Plan: The Hero’s Journey

Last summer, I read a book called “Every Guest is a Hero” by Adam Berger. The book is about how Disney theme parks build their attractions, park layouts, and many other details around making the guest the hero of the story. As you wait in line for Expedition Everest, for example, you learn the history of the fearsome Yeti in the Himalayas around the Disney created fictional town of Serka Zong and the adventure that awaits as you make your way to board the train. I won’t spoil the ride if you haven’t ridden it, but you do survive and return to regale the locals of stories about your encounter with Yeti!

Photo Courtesy of Frank DiBona - www.flickr.com/photos/kiddocone/
Photo Courtesy of Frank DiBona – www.flickr.com/photos/kiddocone/

As I read this book, I began to wonder about ways that teachers could make their students the hero of their stories. Imagine how engaging a lesson could be if every student could work their way through it being the hero. Later this school year, I came across a blog post by Ramsey Musallam that details how he uses the Hero’s Journey to create lessons and an idea was sparked. This summer, one of my projects is to create some lessons the use and refine this concept.

Photo Courtesy of Jeremiah - www.flickr.com/photos/fuzzysaurus/
Photo Courtesy of Jeremiah – www.flickr.com/photos/fuzzysaurus/

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of the Hero’s Journey, it is a literary construct that says that most mythology and storytelling can be developed in stages. Those stages make up the hero’s journey. The most popular framework for the hero’s journey was developed by Joseph Campbell.

The Campbellian model has 4 stages and different parts in each stage. The stages are Separation, Descent, Ordeal, and Return.

Here is how I am envisioning the model as a lesson unit.

Photo Courtesy of allison rose - www.flickr.com/photos/alliesunrose/
Photo Courtesy of allison rose – www.flickr.com/photos/alliesunrose/

Separation:

This is the stage that begins with a Call to Adventure. For those who use inquiry, this could be your intro activity that leads to your driving question. Once the students are engaged in the “adventure” and begin asking the right questions, they move on to begin struggling with the question.

This stage is followed by the Meeting with the Mentor stage. The students are encouraged to ask the teacher or find an expert on the topic to serve as a mentor and guide them on their journey. This could also be a video resource.

Descent:

As the students progress, the move along the Road of Trials as they make their way to the Supreme Ordeal. This is when they experiment with a skill or concept, try different solutions, collaborate with others to advance in their journey and ultimately come to the ordeal.

Photo Courtesy of Sam Antonio Photography - www.flickr.com/photos/samantonio/
Photo Courtesy of Sam Antonio Photography – www.flickr.com/photos/samantonio/

Ordeal:

The Supreme Ordeal is the final conclusion that is their culminating project. This is the major assessment. The demonstration of learning by solving whatever problem the content required. At the end of the ordeal, they get the Reward of completing the daunting task successfully and being the hero.

Return:

This is a favorite stage of mine and often forgotten in lesson planning. The hero always Returns to the Ordinary World and bring backs tales of adventure. This stage is also sometimes referred to as Return with the Elixir. This would be when the students make a public display of their ordeal and success. They should be proud of their work and return to class with a hero’s welcome!

Photo Courtesy of mjmrandomness - www.flickr.com/photos/melmac82/
Photo Courtesy of mjmrandomness – www.flickr.com/photos/melmac82/

As the summer progresses, I’m planning to develop specific lessons following this model. I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback. What lessons could you make your students the hero?

Can a Student Technology Team Help Build Teacher Self-Efficacy in Technology Use in the Classroom?

Part of my professional role is to help teachers integrate technology and innovation into their classrooms. Therefore, it is interesting to me to explore ways to facilitate that process and also identify barriers preventing teachers from this integration. Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2013) determined two main categories of barriers teachers face. The first being external inhibitors like access to devices and the other being internal inhibitors concerning pedagogical practices. They found that schools, for the most part, have eliminated many of the external factors for teachers. However, teachers with teacher-centered pedagogical practices were less likely to integrate technology or innovation than teachers who practiced student-centered pedagogies. Which would imply that teachers need more training in student-centered pedagogy and not necessarily in technical skills. However, it has been found that teachers who get school support on technical skills and knowledge are more likely to have positive beliefs in regard to technology integration (Stanhope & Corn, 2014).

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Photo courtesy of Indiana University School of Education

One theme I see in much of the literature is the concept of teacher self-efficacy in successful integration. Teachers who feel as though they have the ability to be successful will be more likely to accept initiatives for technology integration in their schools. This builds from the ideas of Everett Rogers and his work on Innovation Diffusion Theory (IDT). The 5 attributes from Rogers that teachers need to aid in building self-efficacy are relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability (Surry & Ely, n.d.).

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School leaders want to help teachers grow their knowledge of technology and self-efficacy and the most powerful strategy appears to be helping teachers gain personal experience. That can be through hands-on workshops, but also hearing of other teachers’ successful experiences (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). In the same article, Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) note many different strategies for building teacher self-efficacy, including providing access to models, giving teachers time to play, and other, but one is missing from the list that I believe could be important to consider and that is Student Technology Teams (STT). Therefore, the question I propose asking: 

Does the formation of a trained Student Technology Team used in professional develop help with teacher self-efficacy and thus aid in more successful technology integration?

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It has been seen in research that an STT can be helpful in supporting 1:1 initiatives (Corn, et. al). Ellis (2004) also found that a Student Technology Team known as Technology Fellows can be beneficial when university students are paired with a university professor. Therefore, it goes to reason that having students demonstrate and model uses of technology can bridge the understanding of technology use and student-centered learning. Viewing the successful experience of uses in the classroom, albeit from a student and not a teacher, can benefit the development of self-efficacy. Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) concluded, “Perhaps one of the best ways to support teacher change is by providing opportunities for them to witness how the change benefits their students.” Doesn’t it seem to logically follow that teachers will see the direct benefits to their students by observing and learning from the work of a Student Technology Team?

 

References:

Corn, J. O., Oliver, K., Hess, C. E., Halstead, E. O., Argueta, R., Patel, R. K., & Huff, J. D. (2010). A Computer for every student and teacher: Lessons learned about planning and implementing a successful 1: 1 learning initiative in schools. Educational Technology, 50(6), 11.

Ellis, R. A. (2004). Modeling Technology in Preservice Education Classrooms: A Literature Review. Faculty development to help preservice educators model the integration of technology in the classroom: perspectives from an action research case study, 1050, 10.

Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T. (2010). Teacher technology change: How knowledge, confidence, beliefs, and culture intersect. Journal of research on Technology in Education, 42(3), 255-284.

Ertmer, P.A. & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. (2013). Removing obstacles to the pedagogical changes required by Jonassen’s vision of authentic technology-enabled learning. Computers & Education, X, X-X.

Stanhope, D. & Corn, J. (2014) Acquiring teacher commitment to 1:1 initiatives: The role of the technology facilitator. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46(3), 252-276.

Surry, D. W., & Ely, D. P. (n.d.). Adoption, Diffusion, Implementation, and Institutionalization of Educational Technology. Retrieved June 19, 2013, from University of South Alabama: http://www.usouthal.edu/coe/bset/surry/papers/adoption/chap.htm

What is one way you use technology in your classroom?

A class I’m currently taking has me thinking quite a bit about technology integration in the classroom and professional development surrounding it. In the coming weeks, I’ll blog more about some of the work I’m doing in those realms. I was reminded of a post I wrote on my previous blog 3 years ago that seems relevant in some of my current explorations, so I thought I would repost it. Here it is:

Posted April 9, 2013: Yesterday, I was filling out on of those online entire school corporation job applications.  Today, after a recommendation of a colleague, I was filling out an application for an award given to technology using educators.  Both applications (and others I’ve seen in the past) had this question in some form, “What is one way you use technology in your classroom?”

Now, this question bothers me and here’s why.  My answer is really in what don’t I use technology in the classroom.  Narrowing it down to one specific way is difficult and lessens the value of what I do with technology.

For example, this past week, my 7th grade reading class participated in a Hunger Games Simulation as they prepare to read the book.  Each day, students went to a blog that I had created and watched a video giving them directions created by one of their former classmates that now lives in England.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryffCSZXaCc?rel=0]

After they watched the video, they were to follow the instructions.  They were given a variety of scenarios and they had to use what supplies they had earned or traded for to complete the scenario.  They submitted to me through a Google Form a description of their solution.  Based on their actions in the scenario, they would gain or lose points.  They had a Google Spreadsheet shared with me in which they tabulated their score totals each day.
Also this week, my 7th Grade English class students were writing short stories.  They had two videos to watch at some point during the week.  One on Creating Characters and one on Creating Conflict.  Toward the end of the week, they peer reviewed other stories using a Google Form and autocrat script similar to what Kate Baker recently blogged about.
Their reviews and counter responses were immediately and automatically sent to the other student, and also to me through Google Docs sharing.  I could not only review their stories in Google Docs throughout the week, I could also review the reviewers’ feedback.  At the end of the week, many of them also blogged about their 20% Projects.
I should mention that while all of this was happening in my classroom, I wasn’t even there.  I was in Washington, D.C. on our 8th Grade Class Trip.  While in DC, using the WiFi on the bus and at the hotel, I was able to use an old iPhone donated to the school to blog about the trip with photographs and videos, tweet to parents our locations, check my students work and progress, and answer a few emails with questions from students almost immediately.  Mind you, this is the same iPhone that an Apple Store employee told me would be “worthless” without a data plan and service contract.
So, how do I answer that question?  In just this week, my students and I used video (both to deliver content and connect them to a former student overseas), Google Docs, Google Forms, Google Spreadsheets, an autocrat script, blogs (both to consume and to create), multiple devices, and Gmail all for classroom purposes. This was a pretty typical week for my students using technology even without me present.  How can I narrow that down to one way I use technology?

A Cardboard Regatta: Seeing if Cardboard Can Float

I wanted an activity to use with my 7th grade class as part of their Genius Hour-type class (we call it Expert Projects). Having done a cardboard challenge with 5th grade, I decided to look at some new cardboard challenges because I thought it would fit this group well. I saw a post during the Global Cardboard Challenge of a school that did a Cardboard Regatta. Now, this was a school in California, or some other warm weather state, and they were able to do it in an outdoor pool. I’m in Indiana and it was January when we started, with a goal to launch in February. Surprisingly, it didn’t take a lot of work to convince a nearby YMCA to allow us to bring our boats to their indoor pool to have our own Cardboard Regatta.

One of the more successful boats.
One of the more successful boats.

So, on a snowy February day, I transported 6 cardboard boats and 28 7th graders over to the YMCA to do the unimaginable. Before I announced to the kids we were doing this, I googled cardboard regattas to make sure it was possible for cardboard to float. You see, I’m a former English teacher. I know very little about buoyancy or what it takes to engineer anything into a boat, let alone cardboard. But, I had faith the kids would figure it out.

The most successful boat.
The most successful boat.

When I told the kids about it and we settled on the rules there were still a few students not convinced it was possible to get cardboard to float. I assured them it was possible and off they went. The rules that we decided to follow were that boats could only be made of cardboard, tape, and teacher approved recycled materials (one group ended up adding water bottles from our school’s recycle bin across the bottom). No glues, waterproof spray paint, or sealants. Instead of building their own paddles or propulsion, the class decided they would use a kayak paddle I provided.

The SS Coffin was creative and made some progress, but was done in by low backend that took on too much water.
The SS Coffin was creative and made some progress, but was done in by low backend that took on too much water.

The students had 4 weeks working once a week for about 40 minutes each time. The final week, the science teacher gave them an extra class period in order to finish. It would have been nice to have the ability to test their designs before the final regatta, but they all knew going in they’d get one chance.

After all was said and done, 1 boat made it all the way the length of the pool. Another one made it 3/4 the way before it met it’s demise. The rest made it a few strokes before a major design flaw was exposed. One, unfortunately, sank almost immediately.

The group
The group

All the kids were awesome. They were all good natured sink or float. They all cheered and encouraged each other. And, not a single student asked how they would be graded (FYI, they weren’t graded at all). Every group produced a fully constructed boat that at least had a chance to float. I really couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome. The science teacher checked in on them curiously and asked a few questions. She wasn’t sure it could be pulled off. Now that she’s seen the outcome, she is planning to make it part of a science unit next year to potentially become an annual thing.

One student said it was the “best field trip ever”, but I think he was being a bit hyperbolic. Another student came to my office after school with the sole purpose of thanking me for allowing this opportunity to happen.

If you’ve thought about doing this or are just now learning about it, I say, “do it!” The kids will exceed your expectations and it will be worth it all in the end.

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Touring Day between my #2NightsInSpace

It’s difficult on your system to fly overnight two nights in a row, so NASA gave us the day off from flying. Since we’d already been through safety training, there wasn’t a lot we needed to do. After being allowed to sleep in and rest, we were taken to the SOFIA hangar at the Armstrong Flight Research Facility for a tour of some of the “behind the scenes” operations.

First, we met with Kevin and he explained to us about the ER-2 High-Altitude Airborne Science Aircraft.  He is the project leader on this aircraft and told us a lot about the plane. It is a two seat plane that flies up to 70,000 ft and does Earth Science research for NASA’s Airborne Science Program, also housed at the facility. The ER-2 is different from SOFIA because it points the instruments toward Earth collecting information on Earth resources, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, and oceanic processes. Because of the heavy tail and the wide wings, Kevin said this plane is one of the most difficult to land. Therefore, the pilots must regularly take test flights to maintain their skills. Fortunately for us, today was one of those days and we got to see the plane take off. This plane thrusts one of the sharpest takeoffs of any aircraft and had the quickest takeoff I’ve ever seen.

After learning about the ER-2, we met Matt and learned about the DC-8, also part of NASA’s Airborne Science Program. This plane was much larger than the ER-2, but not nearly as large as SOFIA. I would compare it in size to your average commercial plane. This does similar research to the ER-2. The difference is that on the DC-8, the scientists ride on board during data collection and can adjust the instruments in flight. Whereas in the ER-2 the instruments are all autonomous and can’t be adjusted in flight. The DC-8 has a maximum altitude of 41,000 ft. Matt explained some missions the DC-8 performed in Antartica, Greenland, Hawaii, and other places around the globe. Both the DC-8 and ER-2 were being prepped for an upcoming campaign in Washington state.

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The DC-8

Next, we met with Zaheer, an Instrument Scientist that performs a lot of the pre and post use maintenance and improvements to the 6 (soon to be 7) instruments used on SOFIA. First, he showed us the Preflight Integration Facility. This is where an instrument is tested and prepared to be fitted to the SOFIA telescope for a campaign.

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This is the tool NASA uses to simulate SOFIA’s telescope to test and prepare the instruments.

Zaheer then showed us the GREAT Spectrometer, which is another SOFIA instrument that gets spectra readings on molecules in space. He showed us this instrument and explained how modular it was in order to maximize it’s effectiveness as well as make it easily upgradable.

He then walked us across the hangar and showed up the Mirror Coating Facility. This is where they would take the removed mirrors from SOFIA and coat them in a metal to make them reflective. The mirrors are huge, so they use cranes to move them and place them. What I found really interesting was that they test their mirror coating vat 3 times a year to ensure it’s readiness. However, they’ve had the SOFIA mirrors since 2009 and haven’t needed to coat them once. It’s great to be prepared.

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Used for Mirror Coating

As we ended our tour of the facility, we saw another plane being services and prepared for use. However, the painting on the plane resembled Air Force 1. What we learned was that it was actually a Congressional plane and was being repurposed for NASA use.

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Not Air Force 1

We then left the hangar and went to an area near the end of the runway to view the takeoff of the ER-2 mentioned above and also SOFIA. It was a nice end to the informational day as we prepared for our final flight on Thursday.

Night #1 of my #2NightsInSpace

“Welcome to the mission briefing for SOFIA flight number F254,” said Karina, our Mission Director (DM), as she opened the mission briefing meeting. I was a bit surprised to see 33 people in the meeting for this flight. That’s how many people were directly involved in planning and execution of a single mission flight. That doesn’t include the other 200 employees that work for NASA SOFIA.

The meeting covered some technical information about the equipment checks, a weather report, some navigation information, and any unusual circumstances to this flight. One thing if interest was Dr. Sky, a show on coast-to-coast radio, was on the flight and at one point broadcasted live using Skype.

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This is the Principal Investigator, Ralph, standing and discussing what images the telescope was capturing with the two Instrument Scientists, Andrew and Joe..

After the briefing, we were given about 20 minutes to board the plane. A NASA videographer was following us around the whole flight and he used this time to take some beauty shots of us walking across the runway, up the gangway, and boarding the aircraft.
Many people scrambled around doing last minute checks and then we were strapped into our seats. Pamela, our escort, said that she got approval for 2 of us sit behind the pilot on takeoff and 2 on landing. I got the landing shift. On Thursdays flight, I’ll get the takeoff seat!

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I was buckled in to a seat in front of the educators instrument panel, put on my headset, and prepared for takeoff. The cool thing about these headsets is that we could monitor all the communication channels. So, any talk between pilots, researchers, instrument specialists, etc we could hear. We heard scientists discussing what cosmic phenomenon they were seeing at that very moment. We heard pilot conversations with Air Traffic controllers in various points around the US. We heard the Mission Director giving status reports on route locations, altitude, temperature, and air pressure. It really hit home how many people were involved in making this flight a success.

Take off was much more steep than a commercial airline. Since the plan was to get to high altitude quickly because we can’t use the telescope while climbing. To maximize time, the pilots got to the determined altitude for each leg of the flight very quickly so data could be collected almost immediately. Takeoff really wasn’t as fear inducing as I thought it would be. I did notice when I rode in the cockpit during landing that it feels more turbulence than the cabin does. One of the pilots said in 30+ years of flying large aircraft for the military, only once did he have an engine go out. And losing one engine on a 4 (or even a two) engine aircraft is considered an emergency. He’s still alive, so I took his word for it!

At various times during flight, we had Ralph, the Principal Investigator (PI), Andrew and Joe, the Instrument Scientists, and Mike, a NASA flight researcher, talked to us at length about what stars, protostars, asteroid belts, etc were being studies during this mission and also some of the reasons they studied particular events. A lot of what they study are newly forming stars and/or confirming or advancing the research on specific theories. Did you know that Pluto has been getting further away from the Sun over the past several years? Well, confirming (or not confirming) that data and theorizing on reasons is what these scientists do every day.

At one point, we were greeted by the lights of the aurora borealis right next to the Big Dipper. That was a sight to see. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t get a photograph to show up.  That was disappointing. However, having been born in Alaska, viewing the aurora borealis is on my bucket list. So, check that one off! You’ll just have to take my word on how awesome that was.

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Our pilots Wayne and Ace and Flight Engineer Chris

We got to visit the cockpit and talk to the pilots, Wayne and Ace (yes, really!) and Flight Engineer Chris during flight (and again at landing). Ace used to fly the carrier plane for the space shuttle and regaled us with stories about flying the shuttle and working with astronauts throughout his career. I could have listened to him all night.

The Space Shuttle carrier plane. Photo courtesy of NASA.

I can’t accurately convey all that happened during our 10 hours in the air and all that I learned about space, NASA, and the individual people I had the honor to fly with. Although I’m exhausted, I can’t wait to get back up in the air tomorrow night!