t was the fall of 2011, and I was learning how to become a connected educator. Growing up in rural Texas I have always been labeled a free spirit, dreamer, global thinker who preferred to wear rose colored glasses. I am the 17 year old who proudly stated that I was going to become an educator in my local county newspaper because I truly believed that I could assist others to change the world. I developed a strong interest in debate early in high school, which introduced me to a variety of perspectives and forced me to consider other opinions. My parents instilled a strong Christian belief system towards helping others and I have always truly attempted to give all of myself towards special causes. I found myself in 2011 connecting with other passionate educators around the world eager to use technology as a communication vehicle to promote true change.
I had seen such a transformation occurring in my small community of Dublin, Texas and skill sets acquired during a 1:1 iOS initiative taught me how to connect with others. It was during these late night Twitter chats where I started assisting students to attempt to place their small community on the map via a Save Dr. Pepper Twitter Campaign and TAKE 5 Community Challenge. I was introduced to a curriculum challenge via my PLN that would later profoundly alter my life and many others. The social exchanges that led to a powerful IDEA, a NASA MMS Student Led Challenge, has now been adopted and utilized by students across the globe due to my response to a social media challenge issued by a joint collaboration effort through ISTE (International Society of Technology Education) and NASA. A couple months later I was in route to Austin, Texas to deliver multiple professional development sessions, assist students in leading an Ignite Speech to Save Dublin Dr. Pepper, and meet up with edtech leaders. On my way I remember connecting to my first ZOOM meeting with NASA in a McDonald’s located in Lampasas, Texas. Remembering that all McDonald’s had free wifi, I connected with a select international group and was presented with a challenge. Finding out that two of the members in the group of 25 were actually attending TCEA in Austin, Texas, I decided to organize a face to face meeting. That week I connected with Sandra Wozniak and Tom Chambers in person. I was placed on a team with these two individuals and challenged to deliver a curriculum package within a few weeks that any school in any nation could apply to produce real interest in the problems surrounding the mission, STEM career skill sets, and renewable energies.
Later that spring,we were able to work with Mr. Chamber’s students and fund his students to visit our town to lead a 1 on 1 student mentored workshop. I took this opportunity to coordinate an international student led NASA summit using Project Share and Adobe Connect, which El Paso ISD technology director’s Tim Holt so generously helped to facilitate. I was able to connect schools around Texas, Troy Cline in Washington DC, a US ambassador in Tajakastan, schools in New Jersey, and others around the nation and began considering topics surrounding magnetism, solar storms, and the use of solar energy as a renewable source. Kids in rural Texas also met Mr. Laurence Gartel, the Father of Digital Art, Dr. Patericai Reiff, Physics expert and professor at RICE University, and other experts during this experience in April. The event helped set the stage for a robotics workshop and NASA MMS workshop in which 18 teachers participated. These teacher later helped to host the first ever NASA MMS STEAM camp in Dublin, Texas. I am grateful to community leaders in this small town, Dr. Rodney Schneider, Vicky Stone, and the principal Terry Johnson, who made that event possible.
Sandra and I began to lay out what would later become 3 years of summer STEAM camp activities that employed many science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematic instructional lessons. Each lesson infused learning technology and introduced teachers to new pedagogical approaches andscientific concepts foreign to many teachers and students. Amazingly, we acquired grant funding and with the approval of local leadership and community I began to test these ideas during my PhD course work. Sandra and I placed our first set of ideas in a livebinder, which was awarded the Top 2012 livebinder of the year award at ISTE 2012. We began to present and host after school programs across the nation for the next three years. Online MOOCs, academic research, and grant funded after school programs popped up across the nation due to our ability to connect to others and give away our time, lessons, and passion to students, teachers, and community. We believed in the power of an idea and the end results have left me speechless.
MMS NASA ISTE Cyber Cafe Poster Session
During the summer of 2014, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to move to Carroll ISD, a larger school district. After I was hired, one of the middle school principals informed me in late September that the district was building an observatory. I could barely contain my enthusiasm and began working with school leadership’s extracurricular programs to assist in incorporating instructional technologies to incorporate student led launch parties. My contacts in DC supported the idea and I began working on a MOOC via Canvas Open Network to introduce teachers around the planet to materials we had used during the last 3 years and to assist in spreading launch parties around the nation.
I was shocked to have the invitation to travel to Washington DC in October of 2014 to the actual clean room to view the actual spacecraft. All of the passion, struggles, and failures that I encountered during my 3 year academic adventure was leading me to new global doors and I began to realize this during the DC trip. Seeing the actual clean room, meeting engineers and physicists working on the project, and understanding that this really is a “real event” brought me to tears. How did I end up here? It is obvious that a higher purpose is at work here. I was able to bring Carroll ISD students with me to the tour via Skype and probably hosted over 10 classrooms during the NASA social event. I later found out that connecting students to a NASA social via Skype was a new concept and once again I found myself breaking new ground. I am so grateful to the teachers who connected their students that day. You made a huge impact.
Returning from Washington DC I was able to coordinate a face to face student launch party in a very short amount of time. Once again, I found myself heading to Austin’s TCEA event and I was so fortunate to have the ability to hand out materials and share our MOOC at TCEA 2015, thanks to Randy Rogers and TCEA’s leadership team. Your conference produces GREAT IDEAS due to the networking abilities fostered during the conference.
The next week, I found myself greeting the Father of Digital Art face to face, who was in route from the Grammy Awards. How did I land Mr. Laurence Gartel in Southlake, Texas from the Grammy Awards? Later Susan Pope, NASA MMS engineer, and Troy Cline NASA MMS Educational Outreach lead met with students and we hosted an awesome student led NASA Launch Party. Students led the entire event.They created the program, met guests at the door, kicked off the welcome speech, provided entertainment, and served the makerspace role of the NASA MMS STEAM challenge. I am so grateful to the students, parents, teachers, leadership, and community because you had a large impact.
Again, the students (2 of which are my own sons) presented flawlessly and highly impressed the NASA experts. As we went out to sit with Mr. Gartel to watch the launch, I had tears again in my eyes. The countdown began and we all sat with much excitement. Here I found myself among strong dreamers, leaders, and great thinkers. Some of which have been working on this mission for over 20 years, facing funding cuts, setbacks, but though it all they persevered. And together we cried as we saw and heard our dream lift loudly that night, brighter than the sun. My sons and I hugged and cried. We were part of something truly amazing, out of this world.
As I went home that night, I was reminded by a very good friend that that launch was not the end, but the beginning of something great. He is correct. Failure is not an option. Thank you NASA MMS team for reminding us how the power of teamwork, spirit of connectedness, and perseverance conquers all.