In Our Own Words – Hartford, Connecticut: Transforming Teachers Through Inquiry, One Teacher’s Story

Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School, Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut, is participating in SSEP on STS-135. Their flight experiment, Microgravity’s Effect on Tomato Growth, is scheduled to blast off on Atlantis on July 8. Their participation in this historic flight is made possible by Hamilton Sundstrand, the Connecticut Space Grant College Consortium, Hartford Public Schools, and Travelers Insurance.

The SSEP Team in Hartford wanted to share a local story of one teacher’s experience. It is a teachable moment that points to both inquiry and student ownership in learning as foundations for good STEM education. In fact, we would argue that both should be the foundation for all education.

“We had so many other things to teach that I just did not get to teaching science”, said 23 year veteran teacher Veronica Bolton. “We had to teach reading and math, so there was no time for science.” In elementary schools across the nation this is not an uncommon story. The SSEP program and schools like Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School are changing this. Inquiry is at the heart of both programs. Through intensive inquiry training, creative scheduling, and the ability to teach outside the box, Mrs. Bolton has taken her classroom literally to new heights. With programs like SSEP, students pose their own research questions, design their own experimental proposals, conduct real research, and share their findings with others. “Inquiry has changed my teaching!”, exclaimed Mrs. Bolton. “I used to not like teaching science, but now I love it. Just look how excited my students are!”

Mrs. Bolton’s first grade students conducted real research to find out what kind of eggs were in a fish tank:

“I notice the eggs are in a clump.”
“Look, look, there is a dot in the middle of the eggs!”
“I wonder if they are fish eggs?”
“Maybe they are frog or toad eggs.”
“Do salamanders lay eggs?”
“What would happen if the frog eggs hatched in space?”
“Can tadpoles swim in space?”

It is the students’ questions that drive education at Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School. Principal Melony M. Brady believes, the “new” teacher is the “let-go” teacher, the teacher who takes risks, makes curriculum real, and allows students to drive instruction. Mrs. Bolton, after 23 years of traditional teaching, has become a “new” teacher once again.”

The SSEP program has not only given students the opportunity to engage in real science, but for teachers like Mrs. Bolton it has helped to change their lives. Mrs. Bolton along with many students and families from the Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School will be present at the final launch of the Space Shuttle to witness their experiment fly onboard Atlantis.

Sheri Tanner, Literacy Coach at Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School


Rachael Manzer, STEM Coach at Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School
SSEP Community Program Director, Hartford, Connecticut

2 Responses to In Our Own Words – Hartford, Connecticut: Transforming Teachers Through Inquiry, One Teacher’s Story

  1. Sharon Churchwell July 5, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    I am a teacher in Lincolnwood, Illinois who participated in SSEP for STS-134, and I very much agree that the SSEP experience engenders stepping out of the traditional teaching role and into the “let-go” teaching mode that gives students ownership of their learning and motivation for inquiry. The excitement and the wonder of the SSEP project pull you in, but then you come away with that and so much more in terms of the way you see teaching. Too much of what teachers still look at today is the content we need to cover rather than the types of challenging thinking students need to know how to engage in. Students need to ask their own questions around the content we teach, explore possible answers, and set about evaluating the plausibility of those possible answers. SSEP draws you in and naturally sends you down this wonderful path, and at the end you realize that you were engaged in some of the best teaching of your career. I agree that SSEP helps even veteran teachers become “new teachers.” Way to go Mrs. Bolton and Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School. Enjoy the future fruits of this SSEP labor!

    Sharon Churchwell,
    “new” veteran teacher of 6th grade science at Lincoln Hall Middle School in Lincolnwood, IL

  2. Kevin Renfro July 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    Being an industry partner with the Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School in Hartford, CT is a natural fit for us at Hamilton Sundstrand, since we are a long time supplier of life support equipment to various NASA programs including the space shuttle and space station as well as the space suit. Working with these bright, enthusiastic, young students on the SSEP helps to reinvigorate our own enthusiasm for what we do. Walking through the halls and classrooms of Annie Fisher and seeing the whole school, from kindergarten to eighth grade, participating in this program was really something to see. Melody Brady, the principal at Annie Fisher, said that many of her teachers have become “new” teachers since participating in the SSEP. Many of us who have been a part of this experience with Annie Fisher School wish we were new students. This new way of learning (and teaching) STEM education is really exciting!

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S., and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre-college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.