Contact Victor Williamson with your questions about simulator based experiential education programs for your school.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The First Week is Finished

Hello Troops,
The week is finished. We are fast falling into the ‘groove’. This is the term we use to describe the condition of knowing our lesson, starlab show, and missions so well that we don’t need scripts. It is being in a condition where we run our field trips by instinct. Being in the groove is a good thing. In the simulators it means we are free from the script and able to concentrate on the crew. We can tailor a mission to the crew - highlighting their strengths and deemphasing their weaknesses. We can watch the cameras to find students that need more attention and those that need a bit of discipline. The Groove means we can move through a mission quicker if needed. Sometimes they arrived late or their bus needs to get back earlier than 2:00 P.M.
This year I’m giving schools a mission choice. They can choose their mission from our mission library listed on the Field Trip page of the web site. It empowers a teacher to find a mission that meets the needs of her class. Mission choice helps me as well by giving me variety. In years past we used to run one mission for the entire 9 months. Now we will rotating through four missions. Variety is another good thing.
We ran “Intolerance” on Monday. “The Children of Perikoi” was the mission choice for the Tuesday and Wednesday classes. On Thursday we ran “A Cry From the Dark” and on Friday it was “Perikoi” once again.
We have an awesome daytime staff! Lorraine Houston and Sheila Powell run the classroom and Starlab. In the ships we have myself, Megan, Metta, Emily, BJ, and Aleta. Aleta also runs the office on days where we don’t need her in the simulators. Our high school interns are outstanding: Chrisine, Rachel, Alayna, Kyler, Todd, Rebecca and Zac. Some days we have so much help we can operate the simulator with a doctor character. This kind of help also provides an opportunity to train new flight directors and supervisors.
All and all, this year is off to a good start.
We have been busy with several minor repairs in the simulators. Kyle Herring repaired the Odyssey’s door. The large hole in the Voyager bathroom was fixed. The Voyager’s new carpeting is in place. Currently new tile is being laid in the Voyager’s Brig, Bridge, and steps leading to the Projection Room.
I want to thank our staff and volunteers for their hard work and dedication to our product. We want to deliver the best field trip in Utah to our children. I think we are doing that. We’ve set our standards high because our kids deserve it and we can do it.

Mr. Williamson

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Space Center and Disney. More Reflections.

Hello Troops,
The following comments came by email from a former fantastic Space Center Flight Director named Julie Billings. Julie was once a Disneyland employee and has a unique insight into all things Disney and Space Center. Thanks Julie for your thoughts.

Mr. Williamson

And Now Julie's Comments:
Quick response to Mr. Williamson's blog:

He is absolutely right. It is something Disney has striven to do since it opened. But being attractions instead of simulations makes it difficult. Not to mention the workload of up to 80,000 people a day. Just recently Disney has been able to get out of the repetitive rut with newer more innovative rides, such as the new Tower of Terror with a random selection of drops, Buzz Lightyear with a way to interact, and their newest Toy Story Mania with a 'never the same ride twice' feel to it. At Disney World they have what is called Disney Quest where you can design your own roller coaster and ride it, at an extra price. But never will it be up to what the Space Center can achieve. At the Space Center you are completely immersed in the story for hours at a time. As repetitive a mission can get as a Flight Director, there was always a change based on the creative (or uncreative) children inside.

I remember on my 16th birthday an overnight mission was canceled and Mr. Williamson let what staff who wanted to come do an overnight mission instead. I jumped at the opportunity, birthday or not, and I had a friend who got mad at me because I skipped out on the Mountain View football game. I remember telling her, "I would have rather done what I did then go to Disneyland!" After the words left my mouth I couldn't believe such blasphemy, but it was true.

Now, that being said I love Disneyland and most things Disney. I hope my kids share this love of Disney and love to go to Disneyland. Right now I think I would rather go to Disneyland than anything. But at that age of 16 and before, the Space Center does something to you that nothing else can. And it truly is "Better than Disneyland."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Goodbye Casual and Hello Usual

Hello Troops,
This is the eve of the Space Center's Official Opening for the 2008-2009 School Year. For the last couple days we've hosted our own school for the full four hour field trip. Central students are beneficial at helping us work the bugs out of our programs. They are the victims in our dress rehearsals and, in return for their patience, they don't pay. Well, all that ended this afternoon. Central is finished and tomorrow at 9:30 A.M. we open with our first school of the season - Westvale Elementary School.

It is funny to be able to point to an exact date and time when your life disappears. You see, since July 31st I've either been on vacation or here, working on the Perikoi mission, scheduling classes and field trips, designing a web site, working on simulator repairs, spending too much money on everything from programming books to new simulators, etc. etc. etc. This is my favorite time of year because I can arrive at 8:00 A.M. and actually go home between 6 and 7 P.M. All of that will change tomorrow, September 25, 2008 at 9:30 A.M. From that moment on we are open nearly every school day running two to four classes per day on missions, classes, and starlabs. We run around here "like chickens with their heads cut off" doing pretty much the same thing day in and day out.

Don't misunderstand me, I love my job and wouldn't have it any other way but I still find it interested that everything will change at an exact point in time and stay that way until another exact point in time at the end of May.

We tired something new today on the Voyager school mission. For the first time in years and years we had a doctor on the bridger in addition to the staff. One of our staff set up a sick bay in the Captain's Quarters right off the bridge. During the mission Lorraine sent "injured" crew into the sickbay for a quick scan and a tasty M and M. It worked well and gave crew members a welcome stand up and stretch during the mission. She looked for those a bit bored and sent them in for a dose of attention. It also worked well for attack scenes. Now we can thin down the number of students at the working stations thus increasing the stress level for those that remain. We will try to implement the Field Trip Doctor whenever staffing will allow.

Well, It is time to go home and enjoy the rest of my Worker's Eve. I'll see many of you here in the trenches as we continue to battle ignorance, stupidity and apathy.

Mr. Williamson

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Magic of the Space Center.

Hello Troops,
Take a minute from your battle with ignorance and let me share a thought.
Many times throughout the years we've all heard Space Center visitors say,"This is better than Disneyland!". Each time I hear that I wonder how that can possibly be! Disneyland has everything from expensive, imaginative rides to restaurants and shopping. The parks are squeaky clean. The sets effectively transport you from the daily grind to the world of imagination. I'm an admirerer of everything Disney. So...... being a fan (I don't own a pair of Mickey ears so I don't consider myself a FANatic) I'm honored to hear such things but really couldn't, until now, accept the statements as truth.

I recently returned from a week at Disneyworld. That week gave me multiple opportunities to compare and contrast the best theme park in the world to our humble log cabin approach in Pleasant Grove. I could write a small book on the subject but today I'll share my greatest realization.

I noticed that when people get off a Disney ride they speak briefly about the experience. You hear things like: "That was awesome," to "I think I'm sick," to "That wasn't what I expected," to "That drop almost gave me a heart attack!". You also hear them talk about others in their group:
"Did you see mom's face?" and "I thought Dad was going to throw up!"
The ride discussion quickly ends and the family starts talking about the next meal or hurting feet or exclamations to hurry to get the next Fast Pass. The ride discussion ends quickly because every participant had THE EXACT SAME EXPERIENCE! They were side by side. They all saw the same thing, heard the same sounds, smelled the same smells, and jumped at the same time.
A further discussion is pointless because every comment you make is answered with "We Know, we were there,".

Now compare that to a group leaving one of our simulators after a fun 2.5 to 5 hour mission. Read the points I make below and see if I'm not spot on with this observation:
  • We hear from moms that their children's mission talk continues all the way home and then on for days afterword - Why?
  • Each person on a Space Center mission gets a different ride! Think about it. You have the captain who experiences a somewhat different mission than a security officer. Each person picks up certain story points that others don't because everyone does a different job.
  • Only by sharing your mission experience with the team does a team begin to understand the entire mission. A mission is like a jigsaw puzzle. Only by putting the pieces together do you get to see the picture.
  • Humans are story tellers. That is what we like to do when we get together. Think about your family gatherings. The adults set around and tell stories to each other. Think about the time you spend with your friends. Don't you tell each other stories? That's right, you're sharing your daily experiences and insights. If we don't have stories to tell, the conversation turns silent and we move on to another group where stories are still being shared.
We have these stories because we all experience a different aspect to life. Are you getting my point? We slaughter Disney in one very important aspect - our 'rides' give everyone something different. In addition to that - our rides continue well beyond the time spent in the ships. The mission residue continues for years to come as stories pass from person to person on the semi-shared experience.

This is the magic of the Space Center! It has taken 18 years to really understand but I think I get it. What are your thoughts? Share them if you would using the 'comment' feature of the Blog.

All the Best,
Mr. Williamson

Friday, September 19, 2008

Space Center News Update. All the News That's Fit to Bore!

Read "The Space Center News" Below or 
Pick it Up from Elmer in Downtown PG. Our News is Worth Every Penny!

Hello Troops,
And now, the news from the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center.  

  • Brent Anderson, our former chief programmer and all around Lord of Computers received an LDS mission call to the Prague, Czech Republic Mission.  He enters the MTC in February.  He is currently at BYU and very excited, I've been told, about learning a new language.  It shouldn't be too difficult.  Brent already speaks English and a host of other computer languages.  How could Czech be any worse than C ++?
  • BYU's School of Engineering has accepted the Space Center for a Capstone project.  The student engineers will build a new Galileo simulator.  We expect delivery sometime in May.  Dr. Long's electrical engineers will assist by doing all the electrical work.  This new Galileo will have a metal exterior and work stations for six crew members.  Needless to say, we are all awash with excitement except me.  I'm the one that needs to worry about the final bill.  This project may put the United Federation of Planet's Central Bank into difficulty.  We may need to go to the Federation Government for a bail out.  Why not, everyone else does? 
  • Parts of the Voyager are getting new carpet.  The old gray carpet was showing its age.  After eight years and thousands of children's shoes later the old carpet was giving up the ghost.  Large dark age spots were showing up everywhere, especially in front of the small Voyager fridge.  Gray was not the best choice for color.  It was a decision I made eight years ago and regretted.  Today my repentance was complete when the carpet men brought the new carpet.  It is a smattering of colors - with navy blue being the dominant hue.  There is also a sneeze of red which matches nicely with the red carpet that covers sections of the Voyager's walls.  The carpet men left  two sets of stairs uncarpeted at quitting time Friday.  They'll return Monday afternoon.  Tonight's overnighter is interesting.  The staff and crew have nice new carpet and sticky, uncarpeted stairs to walk on.  Oh well, you never know what to expect when you come to the Space Center.  The staff discovered something else they like about new carpet - The smell.  I found them in the ship at the beginning of the camp.  They were like cows in the field - down on all fours  with their snouts dragging across the new carpet.  
  • Our programming class started last Saturday.  Bridger is teaching our Programming Guild (and certain special guests) how to program in Cocoa.  To those like me that think cocoa is used for double fudge brownies - you are correct but..... Apple has taken a very descriptive word and used it for a computer programming language.   Hey, how could a computer language called Cocoa be difficult to learn?  Following that logic - imagine how difficult it would be to learn a programming language called 'Chopped Liver'.  Wait a minute, isn't that what Windows and Vista is programmed in?  My apologies to our PC fans.  
  • I'm relearning how to tell our school mission "The Children of Perikoi".  I found an old recording of me telling the story four years ago.  That recording will shorten the learning curve putting us in the groove sooner rather than later.
  • Our School Year Flyer is out.  You can sign up for classes and Super Saturdays.  There is also a section of the flyer for donations.  Money will hemorrhage from our accounts this year with the Galileo rebuild and the Voyager refit.  Anything resembling good old American money will be welcome.  I'm even willing to accept Euros - a sign of our desperate need.  I draw the line on Russian Rubles and Chinese Won.  I don't like the way Russia is throwing its weight around and as for the Chinese - they won too many gold medals in the Olympics with girls barely out of diapers parading as 14 year olds on their  gymnastics team.  Oh, I don't think I'll take any of that phony Canadian money either.  Who can trust a dollar nicknamed a Loon?  

Well, that is about it Troops.  There are other minor things I could list but I feel I'm already taxing your attention so I'll stop while you're still semi conscious.  Enjoy your week.  We surely will.  We Open with School Missions This Week.  Wish us luck!

Mr. Williamson   

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why I Call You Troops

Hello Troops,
As many of you know, I use the word 'troops' often when I'm wearing my educator's hat. I've done it for so many years I forget using the term with a classroom of children may cause some confusion. Last Thursday one of my pre algebra students raised his hand at the beginning of class.
"Adam," I said looking down from my elevated perch in the Discovery Room.
"Why do you call us troops?" he asked. "We aren't in the army. We're a bunch of kids."
I got everyone's attention before dispensing my answer.
"Troops, Adam would like to know why I call you troops. Anyone else interested in knowing?" I asked. They all stopped talking. The look on their faces led me to believe a few had an interest. The others were quiet, knowing my feelings about talking when I'm talking.
"I call you troops because that's what you are. You are all soldiers in our war against ignorance. American is in a war of wits with the rest of the world. If we are to maintain our leadership and position as leader of the free world we need to do one thing above all else - we need an educated population. We need a population that can think creatively. We need a population with imagination. We need a population of doers AND hearers. We need a population that understands propaganda and can tell the difference between fact and spun fact. We need a population that knows their math and can read and write well. We need a population that knows their nation's history and understands our liberties were fought for and not given.
Get on the Ladder of Success

Ignorance is out there competing with me for your brain. Ignorance wants you sluffing school. Ignorance wants you tied to your ipod and video games. Ignorance wants you to think that book smarts are stupid and street smarts are the only thing you really need. Ignorance wants you to think doing 'some' drugs is OK. Ignorance wants you to think morals are for religious fanatics. Ignorance wants you to believe that a lie here and there is OK and cheating is the way to get around a tough assignment. Ignorance wants to shut me up right now to keep you from hearing the truth. Well it won't shut me up.

We are in a war troops. Now that you know your enemy what will you do about it? For one hour every day I'm your general. I'm going to lead you into battle. Our enemy is your apathy so leave it at the door. Our enemies are the problems we work on the board. These aren't math problems. These are challenges to your future. We attack! If defeated we get up, brush ourselves off and attack again, and again, and again until we understand.

We will never surrender. We will never quit.
So Troops, are we ready for the day? Then let's get to work."

I'm not sure Adam will ever ask a question again but I think I made my point.

Now Troops, Let's get to Work.

Mr. Williamson

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Thoughts on Our Approaching 18th Birthday.

Hello Troops,
We are nearing the Space Center’s 18th birthday. Years have come and gone. I remember our first year very well. I had doubts. I questioned whether I knew what I was doing. I knew others were concerned about my sanity.

This concept of a Space Center all started with a Young Astronaut Club and a trip to Japan. I saw a school with a small shuttle simulator and wanted one for my club at Central. Suddenly the dream took on its own life. The little ship Pegasus, destined to be built where the Odyssey is now, had morphed into the Voyager – a new addition build onto the school.
So many people were drawn into the project. Great amounts of money and manpower were spent. It had to succeed but I didn't know what `it' was. Failure wasn't an option. I didn't sleep well those first years. My health suffered. My poor heart never completely recovered. The anxiety attacks, I'm happy to say, lasted three years and ended. I had a building but no real understanding what to do with it. I envisioned a science lab on board a futuristic spaceship but that idea never took root. I experimented with a scientific mission to Mars. There are people that remember that first school mission. We flew at warp speed using HyperCard controls I programmed. Once there we used a Mars laserdisc for special effects. We flew around the planet learning about its climate and features. I stood on the bridge next to the Tactical screen. My 6th grade staff (2 kids) sat in the control room listening and waiting for clues on when to play and pause. How primitive it was compared to what we do now. After a few Mars missions I felt something was missing. The students showed little
excitement. They were just bodies sitting at the computers listening to me. I was in command giving the captain orders on where to go and what to do. It wasn't working.

I thought back to my days in the classroom with the overhead projector, boom box, and paper controls. Then the idea came – do what you've proven successful. Introduce some drama. I quickly pulled a few of my "Star Trek" videos and, using two of the school's VCR's, I edited an ending with of a Romulan warbird showing up orbiting Mars.
It was a crazy idea but crazy ideas built the Center. I guess being willing to act on crazy impulses is a character trait I should be proud of.

The idea of adding the Romulan scene at the end of the mission worked well. The kids got excited to see the Romulan ship. The little battle thrown into the end of the Mars mission was successful. It convinced me that my original idea of taking a class on an EdVenture into space would work with the general public like it did with my
captive class. I quickly sat down and wrote another mission. I believe it was called "Epsilon". It was a story of a planet in the Klingon Neutral Zone. Half the planet was under Federation control and the other was under Klingon control. The treaty, allowing joint control of the planet, was soon to be reviewed. The planet would be awarded to the government that demonstrated it could best care for the planet's population.

The story had the Voyager entering the Neutral Zone bringing a new kind of wheat to the planet. This new wheat was genetically engineered to grow well in the planet's harsh climate. The Voyager had a few close calls on the way to the planet and a few others while in orbit. At the end of the mission our classes left the Voyager so
excited. I knew I had found the formula and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now here we are nearly 18 years later. The one ship is five. Our stories are much more complicated. Our simulators are ten times more sophisticated. Our work force has exploded but here I am – still sitting at the helm of the Voyager with microphone in hand. The years have taken their toll. I'm getting older and gray but the magic is
still there. Someone once asked me If I would ever move on. I've thought about that many times over the years. Sometimes, when everyone is gone, I go onto the Voyager's Bridge and sit under the dim lights in the Captain's chair. I look at the walls. I imagine the voices of 225,000 children swirling around the room - in the very fabric of the ship. I look over at the left wing and see the original staff training students at their stations long before the days of training tapes. I see Jacob over in the corner asleep when he should be doing his job as a bridge staff. I hear Russell downstairs playing the blind doctor. I watch a much younger Mr. Schuler coming up the stairs in full Star Trek uniform. I hear a child's voice shout, "Admiral on the Bridge!" I still see that silly mask popping up over the loft and staring at Security. I hear the screams, the laughing, and the quiet that came from sadness when Blossom died in a fiery crash into a planet so many years ago. The memories are happy and so I think I'll stay awhile longer.

Perhaps some day video game technology will become so evolved that children will do one of our missions at home connected to some kind of virtual reality machine. The computer will play my part, telling the story and reacting to the kid's decisions. The class will sit with goggles covering their eyes showing them the bridge of some futuristic ship. Gloves will give them the feel of working the controls. Perhaps the Voyager will still be around. A museum they will visit with their grandparents. As they tour the simulator the sounds of our voices and the blaring music with red alerts will mix with their grandparent's stories of when they flew the Voyager to places far distant.

Thank you everyone for eighteen years. It has been a long road and we are far from our destination, whatever that is. The road has been a pleasant one because of good company. Thank you to our customers and students for believing in the Center and attending our camps and programs. Thank you to the staff and volunteers for the time and effort. The pay isn't great but you're helping me create lasting memories that will stay with our students forever.

Mr. Williamson

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Let's Get to Work: A Staff Message

OK troops, I'm back from the Land of Imagination. Disney World is Magic. I think of it as "The Happiest Place on Earth". Disneyland in California comes in a close second. The Space Center blazes across the line in 3rd. I know you may disagree but I'm prejudice and admit it without shame.
I saw many happy children in the parks. I saw others crying to go home. Some were feeding their faces with churros and soda while others were dragging their parents from ride to ride. This excitement is generated because Disney knows how to spark imaginations by resurrecting memories of childhood - a time when you believed in magic and magical creatures. The thousands of dollars spent in the park stores is evidence of that!
I believe we are in the same business. We want to inspire our visitors. We want to spark their imaginations. We want to create magic.
Our visitors are coming to experience the magic YOU, our Space Center staff, create.

This school year, by working at the Center, you will brighten hundreds of days. You will make thousands of children laugh. You will revive thousands of imaginations with thoughts of what could be. You will motive many to work harder in school. You will encourage others to rush home to their computers and begin writing stories of people accomplishing the impossible in the vastness of space.
You will make a difference.
All of this will be because you are here . I'm proud to have you as my partner at the 3rd Happiest Place on Earth.

Mr. Williamson