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STEM Camp features astronaut & space tweeter, experiments, and tears

August 13, 2013

Students attending STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Camp at Tullahoma's East Lincoln Elementary School this summer were thrilled to receive a video welcome from NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer, said Billy Hix, who led the camp and is an associate professor at Motlow College.

Students attending STEM Camp at East Lincoln Elementary School in Tullahoma listen intently to NASA Astronaut T.J. Creamer, on screen at left, as he talks with Billy Hix, camp instructor and an associate professor at Motlow College. Creamer spoke about his six-month stay aboard the International Space Station and the importance of scientific investigations undertaken on the station. Hix leads STEM camps each summer for both students and teachers.
"The students went nuts over T.J. and enjoyed his stories about the six months he lived aboard the International Space Station," Hix said. "One young man left his table and went up to sit down right in front of the screen to make sure he didn't miss anything."

On the second day of camp, Hix accompanied the students to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. As part of the center's tour, the group watched the movie The Dream is Alive, which includes many views of earth from space. During the airing of the film, Hix noticed that one of the students was crying.

When Hix asked him why he was upset, the student answered, "I never dreamed that earth was that beautiful, and I would not have seen it if it was not for you." He also told Hix that his dream is to be an engineer who builds things in space.

Hix emailed the student's comments to Creamer and was touched by his response, which was, "You have got to know, I get tons of mail. Never before have I cried. I have visited schools EVERYWHERE, but your institution is doing something special."

As a payload operations director at NASA's Payload Operations Integration Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Creamer is responsible for guiding the daily activities of International Space Station astronauts as they perform experiments in space.

He is also known as the first person to "tweet" from space.

Hix has been conducting STEM camps for more than 10 years and said the hands-on teaching and learning experiences of the camps are slightly different than traditional classroom experiences. He calls it "inquiry science," a form of learning which includes minimal directions.

"Students in the camps are given tools and general directions for experiments and projects, but it is up to each individual or team to create a design and reach a conclusion," he explained. "They are inspired to have ideas, form hypothesis, create drawings and blueprints, test theories evaluate, reevaluate and redesign for every task."

Hix receives positive feedback about STEM Camp from parents and students. One parent, whose stepson attended camp this summer, stated in an email to Dr. MaryLou Apple, Motlow College president, "My wife and I were more than pleased with our son's attitude, performance, and the results of this experience. I can't stress enough the importance of camps like this to strike wonder and build character in children of all backgrounds."

Financial support for STEM camps, which cost approximately $30,000 for six weeks of camp, comes from an educational grant and private donations, Hix said.