Janna Reynolds, The Catholic Virginian

Most people probably envision rockets, moon landings or the solar system when they hear “NASA.”

However, Peter Tlusty, technology teacher at St. Mary Catholic School, Richmond, recently participated in NASA’s second annual SPACE Conference for Educators.

The SPACE Conference, hosted by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, is a NASA initiative that seeks to provide educators with a unique learning experience and space-related curriculum content. 

Keynote speakers included Al Worden, Apollo 15 astronaut and nine-year NASA veteran; Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, launch director for NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems program; Sam Durrance, shuttle astronaut of Columbia and Endeavour; and Charlie Camarda, shuttle astronaut of Discovery, the “Return to Flight” mission.

Participants could also submit proposals to give their own presentations on particular areas of interest or expertise.

Science of flight

Since most of the professional development Tlusty does involves “rockets, aviation, aeronautics and everything space,” some of his fellow educators suggested that he submit a proposal.

Tlusty was approved to give his presentation titled “Teaching Aeronautics in Middle School.”

The conference, held July 24-26 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, was for kindergarten through 12th grade educators from across the country. Most of the attendees were science or math teachers, but educators from all specialties were present.

Nearly 40 educators joined Tlusty for his session in which he showed his colleagues how they could teach aeronautics — the science of flight — in middle school classrooms.

“I was hoping, even if they knew nothing about aeronautics or how a plane flies, that they would be comfortable with what I told them and the resources I shared with them – that they could implement those things right into their classrooms,” he explained.

Tlusty said he was happy to share with his audience his passion for STEM learning (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and the fact that he works at a Catholic school.

“Some teachers say they promote STEAM learning where they add the ‘A’ for art. I promote STREAM and add ‘R’ for religion,” he said.

Foundation in space

Tlusty has always been interested in space having been a student himself when the Apollo mission were taking place.

“I’m just a space nut to put it into simple terms,” he said with a chuckle, noting that Kennedy Space Center was the perfect place to present his first session.

In addition to the conference, participants were present to see the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on July 25. 

“What an exciting place to go for the first time,” he said.

Tlusty is excited to bring new ideas and teaching approaches back to Richmond, including experiments from the space station on rocketry.

“Teachers at the end of the year are worn out and ready to recharge our batteries, so this was a fabulous experience to get my batteries recharged,” Tlusty said. “I can’t wait for the school year to start.”