As Idaho astronaut Barbara Morgan and educators made plans for the opening celebration at the new Meridian school that will bear her name, Morgan had two requirements: Involve kids in a project that teaches them something, and minimize her role as an advice-intoning talking head.
In that moment, Morgan encapsulated the spirit of Barbara Morgan STEM Academy, a kindergarten-to-fifth grade math-and-science school opening this fall in the former Linder Elementary, not far from Meridian High.
"I can't wait to see it," she said.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The Barbara Morgan Academy will be the Meridian district's fourth science-and-math magnet school and will primarily serve children near the Paramount and Hunter elementary school areas south of Chinden Boulevard. It's also taking students from other parts of the district and some who have enrolled from nearby Nampa School District.
AN INSPIRING MASCOT
The new school - its mascot is the "Roaring Rockets" - comes amid a push by the state to increase the number of students who go into math and science careers in Idaho and bring the state's workforce better-paying jobs.
Morgan said it's important to point out to kids the career potential in much of the STEM work they will be doing. And more than that.
"It's not just about careers," she said. "It's about having a literate society."
Meridian's new math and science school will employ a teaching style that seems ready-made for the new, more rigorous Common Core education standards that will become a part of all Idaho schools in the fall.
Common Core is a set of standards for what students should know and be able to do that is guiding education in 45 states.
Instruction is based on student-led learning emphasizing critical thinking and analysis of problems, not just memorization of facts and figures.
Students also will have access to a tech room with video conferencing, so they can link up with Galileo Math and Science Magnet School in Eagle to work on projects jointly.
EXPERIMENTING AND FAILING
In Lynnea Shafter's weekly STEM class at Barbara Morgan STEM Academy students will be asked to probe their own interest along a common theme, such as earth and space.
Students might position other students to show the phases of the moon, for example. Shafter wants students to come to her class to explore, test and redesign their ideas.
"Too often, we shut them down," Shafter said. Teachers have their lab lesson planned "and it takes away the fun of learning science."
She wants to show students that everything they design may not necessarily work out. "We can learn from what we did," said Shafter, who left her job as a physical science and astronomy teacher at Meridian's Heritage Middle School to come to Barbara Morgan STEM Academy. "Failure is going to be celebrated."
Instead of teachers lecturing to kids and providing answers, they are "putting it back on the learner," said Ryan Wilhite, the new academy's principal. He's been a vice principal at Sawtooth and Heritage middle schools.
AND THE BASICS
Besides science and math, students will still have to learn the basics of reading and arithmetic. But even in those subjects, teachers will incorporate the school's larger themes whenever possible. If a teacher reads aloud to students, it may pertain to the science projects on which kids are working, he said.
As for the school's opening celebration?
Wilhite, Shafter and Morgan settled on a rocket launch, where students will work together designing projectiles that may be made out of recycled materials. And because every rocket needs a payload, these rockets will carry the dreams of students who want to go into space, Morgan said.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts
Idaho's teacher in space
Barbara Morgan was a teacher from McCall who was chosen as part of the teacher in space program. She was a backup to Christa McAuliffe, who was killed when the space shuttle Challenger blew up in 1986.
Morgan finally got her chance to go into space in 2007 and logged 307 hours aboard the shuttle Endeavour on a mission to the International Space Station.
Today she works at Boise State University, helping develop science, math and technology programs.
Linder Elementary School's transformation grew out of dropping enrollment as the number of elementary school students in surrounding subdivisions declined. Enrollment at Linder, built in the 1970s, slid to 300 last school year.
Enrollment in the Barbara Morgan school is at 430 for the 2013-2014 school year. It will eventually have a capacity of 500.
The school is getting a $150,000 renovation - paid from a plant facilities fund approved by taxpayers several years ago - for its redesign as a math-and-science school.