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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Last Week at the Space Center. The Stories you Asked for.

Hello Troops,
Thank you for the feedback received from previous posts. I understand from the emails that many of you enjoy the stories of day to day operations at the Center. Well, you asked for it and here they are again - last week's interesting stories from my perspective.

Mr. Williamson

A Day off of School (For Most)

There are many happy children out there in the Alpine School District today. They get Monday off from school. While they sleep, the foot soldiers in the Teacher’s Army will be in the classroom brushing up on our teaching skills and supposedly learning new techniques to take the world’s knowledge and force it into the locked brains of the children in our care.

Teaching is a lot like trying to feed a baby his mushed carrots. You begin by putting junior into the high chair. Straps are attached to his waist, legs and arms to ‘prevent him from falling’. Yea right, prevent him from falling......... Don’t we all know what the straps are really for? Think about it, ever since man learned to lie we’ve created tools of pain to discover the truth. Every truth gathering device involved a series of restraints to keep your victim from escaping while you carried out your nervous system 'stimulations'.

The high chair is very similar to ancient torture devices. We strap the baby in and begin the programmed course of torture for that day - the ingestion of matter into the child’s mouth for the sole purpose of getting him to swallow it. The child may sit calmly watching mother looking for something in the cupboard. He knows the cupboard is where the good food is kept for the family. He also knows something else comes from the cupboard.
Think about the difference between Chinese water torture and disemboweling. If mother appears with the apple sauce then the chair is tolerable. A death sentence is spared. If the mushed carrots are produced then in goes the knife and junior's bowels spill out.

I compare teaching with pulling out the mushed carrots. First the child’s eyes grow large, not understanding what he did to deserve this fate. He'd plead for his life if he could speak, but because he can’t, his only course of action is a soul shattering scream. Of course mother and teacher know that 'knowledge / mushed carrots' is good for the child and no amount of screaming, kicking and spitting will deter us from our responsiblity to deliver.

Each day we fight the good battle. Mother pries the spoon between baby’s clenched teeth and attempts to force a swallow before baby spews the orange substance back onto his face, her face and the waiting spoon. Mother learns to be gifted with the spoon. In the mouth it goes and then it is pulled out and placed strategically in front of the mouth to capture the excreted mush. Then with a swirl of the wrist combined with two wipes, she has captured it all back onto the spoon and pushes it right back into baby’s mouth.

I stand in front of my math class and do everything I can to get the learning into their clenched brains. Arm swirls, voice inflection and copious amounts of colored equations on the white board combined with doses of sugar are sometimes useful to make the students forget they're learning. It works for the most part and when it doesn’t, I position myself to capture the spray of pre digested confusion hurled in my direction. I take the confusion and questions, perform a few wrist swirls with a marker on the white board, chant a few magical incantations and transform the confusion into order. Then I shoot it back to the students in an attempt to get it into their heads.

It is a never ending battle. Some days I win and some days I loose. Lately I feel like I’m loosing. I’ve gone from mushed carrots to partially digested, stewed liver (equations with variables on both sides). Every day last week I’d have to leave math early to change my shirt before starting my field trip space mission. My shirt would be covered with the most disgusting brown, nose curdling, fibrous meaty substance an upset child’s mind could produce and spew out half way across a classroom. I’ll make another attempt to scale the fortress’s walls this Tuesday when the children return from the three day weekend. I’ll wear an apron to save on washing. I'm determined they're going to understand variables on both sides. I will not surrender. Nuts.......
(for those that understand their World War II history).

His Unforgettable Face

Yesterday was another Super Saturday. Twenty two children attended the five hour program. Now remember, I see around 500 children a week, so by week’s end I find it difficult to distinguish one child from another. The children all start looking alike to me. There are noses, eyes, ears, and mouths. The mouths are permanently in the open position producing sound. Only when a child’s face strays radically away from the norm do I notice. That happened on Saturday.

One boy walked up to my table with rank paper in hand. He held it out for my inspection. I looked up and saw eyes, ears, a nose and then something out of the ordinary. I saw a closed mouth. This mouth was widely deformed when compared to the other children’s. This closed mouth’s ends were drooping downward in what struck me as a very noticeable frown! I said something funny to see if my humor would act like a hydraulic lift and move the two ends upward into something normal for a Space Center attendee. I don’t remember what I said but whatever it was fell flat right in front of me on the table. My best material couldn’t even raise a smile. I knew this boy was going to be a real kill joy no matter what ship I put him in.

I glanced over at Christine and Brittney, the two flight directors assigned to the Super Saturday, and wondered who had upset me recently and needed a bit of pay back. Neither saw me looking in their direction. Neither saw the gleam in my eye. Dispensing real challenges to unsuspecting Flight Directors makes running the Space Center a real joy. I thought for another moment and decided to let fate make the decision. I handed the boy back his rank paper and asked him to sit on the gym steps. He obeyed and found a corner to darken near the Utah flag. I wondered if the citizens of Utah understood why the sun over Utah suddenly dimmed at that moment. I read that many took it to be an unannounced partial eclipse. Others passed if off as a very large cloud. Still others removed their glasses and reached for a wipe.

The Super Saturday started. All children were present and accounted for. I got up and positioned myself in front of the crowd. I took in a breath and blew my whistle to get their attention. Once it was quiet I started my monologue. I started with the joke on the school’s restrooms. My audience laughed, except for that boy. His stoic nature unnerved me. My voice began to quiver. I growing unsure of my material. OK, time for the heavy guns........ I rearranged my welcoming speech and moved the vomit segment right up into second place. With another deep breath I started, moving from being sick to describing the act of exploding all over everyone and then took the discussion right into the Happy Bucket. Yes, yes, the normal laughter was there from everyone except HIM. He looked bored. He looked at me like I was some poor pathetic middle aged, slightly off my prime weight, partly balding, white socked looser.

I was done. I rushed through the rest of the speech and divided them into their ships and dismissed them to their fate. I stood near the table as they filed out the gym door. I watched my nemesis as he shuffled out. I waited for him to look in my direction so I could turn away and show him what a real cold shoulder looked like. HE DIDN’T EVEN GIVE ME THAT PLEASURE. He stared ahead and walked like a man on the path to his executioner.

The rest of the day passed. It was time to send them home. I had their new Rank Papers ready on the table. The missions ended and the children came to get their papers and return to reality. I saw the boy. I was surprised he made it to the end of the camp. He picked up his paper, looked up and saw me. Ah Ha! I had my chance. I turned away and dipped my left shoulder in his direction. “Take That,” I thought. Well, he took it just fine and moved right in front of my face. I looked down and straighten my back. His lips were parting. He was going to speak.
“That was the best thing I’ve ever done. Thank you,” he said. The words were spoken without a smile but with feeling.
“Did you have fun?” I questioned as I reached for the table to steady myself from the shock. He nodded his head and then, for a brief moment, I saw what I was after the whole camp. The left corner of his mouth rose by a fraction of a millimeter. “YES, YES, YES, YES,” my brain screamed. What was once an emotionless Vulcan child turned out to be a less emotionless Vulcan child. Chalk up another victory for the Space Center and its awesome staff.

BJ Warner and Electrons. Alike yet Different

We were seriously short handed on Thursday’s Daytime Field Trip. Metta and Megan were out of state doing something with the Air Force and Saint Sheila of Lehi was in Salt Lake City rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful - and that included the Ambassador of South Africa. Saint Sheila was wined and dined. Afterwards there were serious, under the table, political deals agreed upon completely without the approval our current Secretary of State.

I was left behind in Pleasant Grove scrambling to fill positions at Star Fleet Headquarters. BJ was called in to help. He was gracious and accepted the call.

We were running Perikoi for a class of sixth graders from Westfield Elementary. It was the afternoon mission. They were doing OK but we were running out of time. Their bus was waiting and I was determined to get to the end of the story. The climax was approaching. The USS Copernicus was about to explode. The shock wave would ring outward vaporizing the alien ship and then the Voyager. If things weren't done at just the ring time between the Engineer and the two Left Wing Officers, the entire scene would fall apart.

The Copernicus was about to explode. That’s when I noticed the Engineer had put the Dilithium Crystals into the cool down positions. The Left Wing Power Officer no longer had enough power to give the warp engines the ability to go warp 9. They couldn't escape the incoming blast. I was bouncing in my seat shouting at the television monitors thinking the Engineer would hear me through the glass. Of course he didn’t. All was lost......... And then something happened........

Suddenly I saw BJ at the engineering station getting the problem corrected. I looked up and saw the shock wave approaching the ship. I looked back at the monitor and saw BJ at the Left Wing Power Station. I blinked and he had shifted his position and was hovering over the Left Wing Tactical Officer. I looked down. The power was restored. They were moving to Warp 9. I hit the special effect sound. The wave approached. The ship jumped forward at just the right time complete with matching sound. The class went bananas. BJ fell back onto the Records Station. It was over.

Still to this day I don’t know how BJ was in three places at nearly the same time!? It was physically impossible yet he did it. They say electrons have the same ability. They can pop in and out of our reality and therefore be in two places at the same time. Between you and I, I believe BJ has learned to master the power of the electrons in his own body thus making it possible for him to be in two places at the same time. If this is true, then think of the possibilities! BJ can go on his mission and work at the Space Center all at the same time. Aren’t physics wonderful?

Tough Times for Economy

I heard on the radio today that 8 out of 10 Americans are stressed because of the current economic situation. We are not immune from these tough times at the Space Center. Many of our staff and volunteer’s families are experiencing them first hand. The Center itself has seen a reduction in the number of private missions and camps booked. It is hard to send a child to camp when you may not have enough money to pay all the bills.

The point I'm making about sacrifice sprang from something I saw on a recent overnight camp. Most of the campers checking in at my table were dressed in their fine, fashionable clothes complete with trendy footwear. However, in the room of 43 sixth graders I noticed two boys wearing clothes that didn't compare to the others. It was obvious their clothes had been handed down multiple times.
The pants and T-shirts were in bad shape. You may be thinking they dressed that way for style's sake (the grudge look). Listen troops, I know that look. I've seen the jeans that have the holes for coolness sake and those clothes were not the ones on these two boys. Besides, kids that dress grudge for fashion sake still have nice shoes. These boys didn’t. They were two boys from different families that didn’t have a lot of money and yet they were at our Space Camp. I wondered what kind of sacrifice their parents made to get them there. I wondered if the boys earned the money themselves doing house hold chores. The Space Center means that much to many of our campers.

Staff and Volunteers, please remember the sacrifice many are making to come to the Space Center. Make their sacrifice meaningful by the experiences you provide. Always do your best. That is all I can expect. If you do your best then I feel confident we will always give our campers a few hours of real joy, fun, and imagination - just what the doctor ordered for tough times.

A physiologist said that in difficult economic times stress levels drop if people pull together as family and friends; therefore surviving this economic situation is a team, not an individual sport.

We all have our days when we're one trick ponies - we do our thing and that's about all we can do. We all have our days when just getting through it is like a three legged dog struggling down the street. They call it a recession and times are tough but there is always something left at the bottom of our emotional barrel to draw upon, the vapors that remind us that others depend on us. So we buck up, put the straps around each shoulder, wipe the blood from our noses and start pulling again because that is what we do. A set back or two can't stop us.

Banks may fail and jobs will be lost. Homes will be foreclosed and soup lines may form, but in our little corner of the universe we have our families, our friends and our work mates. Hold on to what matters and remember, we are all in this together.

Be there for each other.

I'll keep the lights on for you here at the Space Center ;)
Mr. Williamson
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