This summer, Shannon Sparks, fifth grade teacher at Mendenhall Elementary school, will be spending the summer at NASA, walking the same halls of Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride and several astronauts before her. After a competitive application process, Sparks was selected to attend a week-long Liftoff Summer Institute at Houston’s NASA Johnson Space Center. The program gives teachers more information about STEM, engineering and more. Before her summer in space, Sparks talked about her love for science and her pride in being a “science nerd.”
How did you feel when you were selected for the LiftOff Summer Institute?
When I received my accepted letter, I was thrilled. I was so happy I cried, and screamed at the same time. I couldn't stop saying, “I am going to NASA!” I felt like a little kid all over again!
What was the application process like for the NASA program?
The application process reminded me of applying to college with many questions to reflect and answer. It took me several days to even complete it.
What are you hoping to bring back to your students and fellow teachers?
I look forward to bringing back new ideas to implement in our science classes. Being able to learn from other educators, engineers, and even astronauts is truly exciting and a wealth of information.
Why did you want to join the NASA LiftOff Summer Institute?
I am our fifth grade science teacher and space science has always been my biggest challenge to teach. I love to give my students hands-on experiences so they can do science - not just read about it. I can't take them to space to learn, so I desire to learn new ways to engage my students in the area of space science. I wanted to be apart of Liftoff so I can be a better science teacher and to gain knowledge in an area that I need to grow in is epic.
What are you most excited to see at the NASA Johnson Space Center?
I am most excited to hear Fred Haise speak to us. I loved the movie Apollo 13 and now I get to meet one of the astronauts.
What’s your favorite lesson to teach each year?
It is hard for me to pick just one lesson. I am passionate about science and really love teaching it all. The best science is the kind were we get to be messy and experiment. I recently was called a science nerd- and I am proud of it.
Who are your science heros?
There are so many amazing scientists that have impacted our world and brought us so many discoveries, but my favorite is Bill Nye. When it comes to teaching science he is cool. He makes science fun for kids and exciting. Bill Nye can take something complicated and make it understandable for anyone. When I teach science I want to be able to make my students laugh and learn at the same time like Bill Nye does for kids all over the world.
Why is STEM important for students to learn?
STEM offers students a different way to look at the world. STEM is about figuring out ways to solve real world problems, or make something better for people. When our students participate in STEM projects they have to ask questions and come up with creative solutions. It is an amazing opportunity to think outside the box and make discoveries. We need STEM so our future generations can act on what they know.
Who was your favorite teacher in school and why?
My favorite teacher was my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Scroggins. From the very first day of class, she made me feel like her most important student. Every day she worked with me in the mornings to help me with math. I remember that she would also pray that I would have the wisdom of Daniel. She invested in me and believed I could do anything.
How do you spend your time outside the classroom?
I enjoy spending time with my husband, Kirk Sparks, and our sweet dog, Sophie. I love to relax with some ice cream and a good movie, or hang out with my best friend. I also love to explore and go hiking.