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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinApril 9, 2004 Issue 

Howard teacher gives students some space

Students study fish in space in curriculum filled with solar system research

By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

photo of science teacher Elizabeth Gaywont at Marshall Space Flight Center

ALL SYSTEMS GO: Elizabeth Gaywont, a science teacher at St. John the Baptist in Howard, has brought back knowledge she gained at a workshop at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. She uses space research in all her science classes. (Submitted photo)

Can a fish live in space?

Students in Elizabeth Gaywont's classes at St. John the Baptist School in Howard may soon find out.

Gaywont, who teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade science, is starting a project where students develop suggestions about the conditions necessary for a fish to live in space. The students will receive a computer feed with information from an actual experiment where fish were taken into spaceflight.

Using space research to teach all forms of science is a passion for Gaywont. In February, she traveled to Huntsville, Ala. to take part in a three-day workshop at the Marshall Space Flight Center. The workshop, designed for educators, provided her with more lessons to incorporate into her curriculum.

"I spent the first 2½ days back in the classroom going through slides with the kids," said Gaywont. "It was so well planned. Every day had a full schedule. The people were all so enthusiastic. They were very appreciative of our role as teachers. One historian told us 'You, as teachers, are the ones that have to give them this excitement. You have to help them dream to dream.' It was incredible. So many times, I refer to things I've learned at NASA."

The workshop included lessons and activities about flight, microgravity, engineering and life support in space. One of the more thrilling tours was of the Rocket Test Stand Facility, said Gaywont. The teachers climbed the 18-story test stand for a look at downtown Huntsville and the surrounding areas.

The conference also included a session at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center where teachers viewed the IMAX film, Space Station 3D.

"We got a behind the scenes look much different than the normal tour," said Gaywont. "As we toured the different departments, the project leaders would stop and describe what they were working on. We also had design challenges. We had to put together a propulsion unit by designing a propeller. I loved it. I kept thinking to myself, 'Feed me. Give me more and more information.'"

Gaywont's interest in space developed from her desire to change the curriculum.

"Sixth grade curriculum includes a unit on space," she said. "The kids need to learn how our solar system came into being. How did our universe come into being? By the time I get them as sixth graders, they know what the planets are. They've made models. I was looking for something different."

Gaywont discovered a project from the University of California-Berkeley where students receive a message from E.T., and then figure out the origin of the message.

"Since we can't go to other stars to figure it out, we use ours as a model and learn about that one, and do some guessing on the rest. I've been working with them on how we find out about our stars and our planets."

"Last summer, somebody suggested Space Education (Initiatives)," she continued. "I took the class during the summer and found several things I wanted to use with them."

Space Education Initiatives offered a GPS (Global Positioning System) session which Gaywont applied to her seventh grade science class. The students used the GPS receiver to find basic information and for a scavenger hunt. Gaywont also incorporated ecosystem projects from Space Education Initiatives into her lessons.

"Our goal is professional development," said Jason Marcks, earth and space science specialist at Space Education Initiatives. "The better the teacher is trained, the better job the teacher does in the classroom. We provide space curriculum and training for teachers. We offer a number of programs in the summer and provide ways for the teachers to incorporate space into the classroom. We will support teachers any way we can."

The Marshall workshop was arranged through Gaywont's association with Space Education Initiatives and was sponsored by the Wisconsin Space Science Initiative. She plans to take another Space Education class this summer at Ashwaubenon High School.

The fish project is also from Space Education Initiatives. The students have to complete their own research on the project, but Gaywont, who has taught at St. John the Baptist School for six years, did offer some insight on the possibility of fish living in space.

"Fish are affected by gravity," she explained. "Although they live in a buoyant environment, they need an up and down. If they don't have it, they do what is called looping, where they go around and around. How do you provide them with an up and down? That's where problem solving comes in."

For more information on Space Education Initiatives, visit online at

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