How did a music teacher end up taking a zero-gravity flight?
I am the Girl Scout co-leader for my second-grade daughter’s Brownie troop with a few other moms, one of whom is a science teacher at our local middle school. She told me about a new program running through Carthage College in Kenosha called the Embedded Teacher Program and encouraged me to apply. I figured I didn’t have a chance of getting selected since they were only accepting 10 teachers from around the country into the program, and the requirements said you had to be a STEM teacher to be eligible.
You’re not a STEM teacher, but you applied anyway?
I applied because I knew the impact on learning for the students I work with would be incredible. This was an excellent opportunity to show the students that music connects to so many subject matters — if I could show them how to connect band to space, they would see how band can connect to everything.
And you were accepted?
A week and a half later, I got accepted into the program. I attended a two-day workshop that featured information on the current NASA Artemis mission, microgravity facts and experiments from the National Space Society, and a tour of the Carthage microgravity lab. At the end of the workshop, we were invited to submit proposals for experiments to fly on a parabolic flight through the Zero G Corporation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Was your proposal immediately accepted?
I submitted a series of band-student-designed experiments for round one and was denied. Three days before the resubmission deadline, I discovered that I needed to start from scratch, as my experiment ideas were not supportable on the flights. This happened four days before my Catholic school’s first Christmas concert in person since 2019.
That must have been stressful.
I spent that whole weekend doing sound and music experiments to see what might be able to be adapted in an exciting way for zero gravity. I eventually found a few ideas and submitted them after having the band students I work with pick out what they were most interested in learning.
What was it like being invited to fly your experiments?
I was awestruck. I went from thinking I would not even get into this program to being one of four teachers who gets to fly in the zero gravity flight.
How have your students reacted to your experience?
Student engagement levels and their reactions were awesome. At the end of the school year, I surveyed the students to see what the whole experience had taught them. Some of my favorite answers were:
– “I felt like I had been involved with every aspect of this experience, even though I couldn’t go on the flight with you.”
– “I learned to never give up on my dreams, no matter how impossible they seem.”
– “Music is so cool that it can be connected to everything, even space!”
– “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.”
– “Even researchers like to listen to the trombone — probably because they know it’s the best instrument.”
– “Keep working hard on what you really want to accomplish because you can get there with the right amount of work.”
– “I thought writing music was hard, but it’s so much fun I want to write longer stuff.”
– “This was super cool to be a part of. It changed me because it showed me that you can do anything.”
Were you able to bring your experiments back into the classroom?
It was easy to incorporate the experiments we did into my classroom, as the students helped to develop them. I teach students about sound waves so they can understand how to tune their instruments. Two of my experiments showed what sound waves look like in zero gravity. One of the other experiments was a composition project where we took the roll of a die as it went in and out of zero gravity and paired the data from that with some student-composed melodies. We composed a piece of music for our spring concert using the data from the flight.
Music and science — do they really go together?
After hearing about my experience, a close friend said, “The path you have traveled all makes sense now.” I have loved music and science for my entire life. Often I look back on my life choices and wonder what would have happened if I had not gone into music for my career, as I had thought about going into a science profession.
With all of these astronauts and scientists, was there room for faith on the flight?
I love sharing stories with the band students about astronauts who have taken the Eucharist with them into space or astronauts who openly discuss their faith. I know the students enjoyed hearing about how the teachers selected for this zero-gravity flight prayed together before each flight. This was a great way to show students how their faith fits into situations outside of the school day and outside Mass. Your faith and relationship with God carry in to all aspects of your life.