April Lanotte Inspires Students with Skills Learned as Space Foundation Teacher Liaison

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April Lanotte Inspires Students with Skills Learned as Space Foundation Teacher Liaison In the tiny farming community of Simla, Colo., (pop. 663) the science of space has taken over.

When April Lanotte, a Space Foundation Teacher Liaison, accepted a job as Simla’s only high school science teacher in 2006, she was intimidated to say the least.

“While I was fascinated with science, I had been teaching middle school English for the past decade,” she explained. “It was only because of the courses I took through the Space Foundation that I had the confidence to pursue a science position.”

In her first year at Simla, Lanotte used a short unit in rocketry to illustrate the concepts of inertia and momentum to her high school physics class. Her students were so excited that they decided to compete in the prestigious Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) that same year.

The rules of TARC required the students to build and fly a one-stage model rocket that would reach an altitude of 750 feet, stay aloft for 45 seconds, and return an unbroken egg to the earth. The students spent several months perfecting their rocket, which was created entirely from scratch in the school’s wood and metal shops.

Although their team didn’t make it past the regional qualifier, their rocket was successful in meeting each of the requirements of the contest – and the students begged Lanotte to sign up again the following year.

Encouraged by their enthusiasm, Lanotte introduced an upper-level science program in astronautics, comprising classes in astronomy, the basics of flight, rocketry, and the biology of living in space.

“It helps the students who want to get into these great science and engineering schools because it stands out on their transcripts,” said Lanotte. “Instead of the typical biology and physics classes you might see, our students have credit for building a simulator for sustaining life on Mars.”

She also instituted a science mentorship program, which allows her students to spend one hour each week teaching space science to first and fifth grade classes.

“They make models of the solar system and build rockets out of soda bottles. Everyone has a lot of fun, and the younger students are excited to study science when they get older.”

Last May, her students invited the Colorado Springs Astronomy Club to join the community for a night of telescope viewing, which more than 300 people attended.

What is most rewarding for April Lanotte is the sense that her Space Foundation classes have had an effect on her student’s future careers. “When I started, these kids were so unfamiliar with space,” she says. “Today, four out of four of the graduates I have worked with are enrolled in college engineering programs.”

This article is part of Space Watch: June 2009 (Volume: 8, Issue: 6).

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