Fall 2008 Issue

The Orbital classroom

AMSAT and Teacher Professional Development

By Dr. H. Paul Shuch, N6TX


Our last column (Summer 2008 CQ VHF) discussed the National Science Education Standards. In it I attempted to show why AMSAT must demonstrate compliance with those standards in developing a meaningful Teacher’s Institute. It was my intention to show how AMSAT can provide a credible professional development opportunity for educators, while advancing our own educational goals. Since that column was submitted, there have been significant changes in AMSAT’s educational direction. It is my hope to explain those changes in this, the final installment of “The Orbital Classroom.”

Most school districts tie advancement (and in some cases continued employment) to specific continuing education requirements. Generally, a teacher is required to receive a specified number of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) during a stated period of time to meet a given school district’s professional development requirements. Unfortunately, the scope of acceptable activities and level of rigor necessary to grant CEUs vary from state to state. However, AMSAT intends to provide continuing education opportunities for teachers from all 50 states. In order to grant CEUs, we would need to have our curriculum scrutinized and approved by 50 Departments of Education in separate states (each of which may have different, possibly conflicting, standards). Thus, it is my recommendation that we not pursue granting of CEUs.

There is, however, an alternative to CEUs. Most school districts will allow professional development credit for relevant postgraduate-level courses from any accredited university. Also, AMSAT, by virtue of its Memo of Understanding with the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore (UMES), is party to an educational partnership that just might make such postgraduate-level courses feasible.

UMES is home to the Hawk Institute for Space Sciences (HISS), host for the AMSAT Satellite Integration Facility (“AMSAT Lab”). We have already partnered with HISS on a number of educational initiatives, including student involvement in satellite construction activities in our lab, and student participation in balloon launches carrying amateur radio payloads. Thus, using their facility to educate educators is a logical next step.

Although UMES is an undergraduate institution, it is part of the University of Maryland system, which does indeed grant graduate credits. If our Teacher’s Institutes can be approved by that university for graduate credit, participating educators from all states can apply it toward the continuing education and professional-development requirements of their particular school districts.

OK, so we began to develop a game plan for offering accredited, post-graduate training for educators through our existing university partner. Of what should such training consist? Clearly, we would love to see schools across the country equipped with OSCAR ground stations, tracking and communicating through ham satellites. Remember, though, that any effort in that direction must be consistent with the National Science Education Standards outlined in the previous “Orbital Classroom” column. Simply preparing teachers to have their students play ham radio through satellites isn’t going to cut it.

Here’s where a serious curriculum development effort appeared needed, and I am proud to say that several AMSAT educational volunteers stepped up to the plate. However, before reinventing the wheel, I thought it prudent to survey other professional-development opportunities for educators which also focused on satellite communication and related technologies. To my surprise, I found quite a few competing programs already well in place.

Closest to home for most AMSAT members is the excellent ARRL educational program headed by our friend Mark Spencer, WA8SME. Mark was most helpful and encouraging to me when I first was appointed AMSAT Director of Education in early 2006, and he generously offered to share his curriculum with us. He presents four to six Teacher’s Institutes a year in various parts of the country, and through a partnership with an accredited university is able to offer participating teachers postgraduate credit suitable for their professional-development needs. These week-long intensive courses cover many aspects of amateur radio, including an excellent introduction to amateur satellites. In fact, in their professional capacity as classroom teachers, a number of AMSAT members have already taken Mark’s courses.

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