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[Edmentum Podcast] Episode 4: Immersive Learning and Partnerships with Dee Maynard

[Edmentum Podcast] Episode 4: Immersive Learning and Partnerships with Dee Maynard

In our 4th episode of the Edmentum Podcast, I sit down with Dee Maynard, an Education veteran with over 20 years of experience teaching both in and out of the traditional classroom. Today, she is the education program manager at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and integral part of the astronaut training experience or ATX as it’s called.

The transcript below has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Immersive Learning and The ATX Program

David Cicero: There's a lot to be learned and so maybe a good place to start would be just to understand your role better, education program manager. Can you help us understand what it is that you do exactly there?

Dee Maynard: So I started out as a member of the educator staff doing the different field trips and education programs and I've worked my way up to the position of program manager. So knowing what is needed by the staff, my job is to make sure that they have the tools in order to run the programs, including curriculum activities and a general schedule for how the programs are going to flow. And then I help them with their training and any other issues that come up that they need assistance with.

David Cicero: And the curriculum was built in house essentially, right?

Dee Maynard: Yes, we do use a lot of NASA materials because we're telling NASA's story, but as the way that it's presented and our type of delivery that we develop all of that in house.

David Cicero: I’d really love our listeners to better understand specifically what kind of education programs are offered at the ATX, can you share that with us?

Dee Maynard: We believe is that for education to really take place, it requires an immersive experience. So rather than just sit someone down in a classroom and tell them about the space program, or show them pictures about the space program, we want them to have a hands-on experience.

But the ATX program, it's about a half day experience. It is designed for students ages 10 and up because there's a lot of communication and collaboration involved. We have simulators like the ones that astronauts would train on. And one of the things we do is remind our students that astronaut training itself takes years.

We've tried to condense the thousands of hours astronauts spend in training so kids can and get the highlights. Our students start by taking place in a launch mission. They work as a team of 12, each of them has a specific role, like flight director or mission commander. They run through a computer simulation to launch from Kennedy Space Center and rendezvous and dock with an orbital space craft.

We also have the microgravity simulator where we're trying to teach them what it's like to live and work in a microgravity environment.

We've designed a special simulator where the students are strapped into this chair that has free motion in several different dimensions and the whole thing is hovering on a cushion of air. We have another simulator that is a full motion simulator that can roll up to 360 degrees in any given direction. We call that our land and drive on Mars where they're working with a partner in the training control center to land on the surface of Mars and follow markers to find the Mars base.

Then we have a virtual reality trainer. And in that they don virtual reality equipment to complete missions on the surface of Mars where they are walking around, picking up rocks, scanning them. We try to give them these immersive experiences. Then we have briefings and debriefings where we get their input and answer any questions that they have.

David Cicero: I'm seeing this idea of immersion. In terms of a traditional public school, it can be very difficult to provide the same sorts of immersive experiences. How can we make this as real as possible?

Dee Maynard: I was in a regular sixth grade classroom for about 15 years. You can do it very affordably; you just have to be a little bit creative. There are a lot of websites where teachers can get together and chat and share their ideas. I'm always encouraging people to think outside the box. Look at your curriculum and look at what you're teaching and try to figure out a way to do it a little bit more hands on and interactive.

The Importance of Partnerships

David Cicero: You worked with the NASA team to build this curriculum and make it as accurate as possible. I see it as a partnership, and I love the idea of having an industry partner. Can you talk to us about the importance of industry partners, how it's been important to Kennedy Space Center and just your thoughts on the type of influence industry partners can have on the curriculum and the students involved.

Dee Maynard: Absolutely. I think there's two keys to this. It does not happen overnight. We worked with [the NASA Team] for a couple of years to build relationships to where we could actually have a partnership rather than a program. And they are the ones who tell us what they need. And so then we look for ways that we can contribute to that.  Building a partnership over time and then letting the industry partner kind of drive the content, I think is the key to that being a two way street.

David Cicero: I love this idea of educators being involved in their field of specialty, right? So if I am an English teacher, maybe I'm submitting poetry. If I'm a social studies teacher, maybe I am volunteering at the local museum or something like this. What you explained to me, is teachers who are interested in doing work in their field, they can seek out those partners saying, "Hey, how can I help? I want to make my curriculum more engaging. How can I be involved? How can I use my resources in my classroom to literally contribute to your mission and also use that contribution to continue to engage my students?” Students are more engaged knowing that they're actually doing work that this company up the road is waiting for and is looking at, right?

Dee Maynard: Absolutely. When I was still in the traditional classroom my school participated in a program that one of the local newspapers was running. It was an advertising campaign. The newspaper would gather up the different companies that were advertising with it and they would then go to the school and each class would be assigned one of those companies. So my school was assigned to an auto dealership and the kids had to come up with ads and the industry person would come into the classroom and say, "This is what we want to sell, this is what we like about it," and come up with an ad that features those things. Then the students would all do the ads and the newspaper would select the winning ads for each business. Those ads were actually the ads that ran in the paper. It was amazing what that did for the kids. Then the kids can then go, "Look at this, I've actually designed and sold an advertisement." That's incredible.

The Three Tiers of Personalized Learning

David Cicero: So oftentimes when we speak with schools about personalized learning, we're typically talking about three groups of kids that we want to help. We have the students that are below grade level, the students that are on grade level and the students that are above grade level. How can we develop activities toward those three tiers that all contribute to that one activity?

Dee Maynard: The key there is you need to know your place on the team and it needs to be clear what your task is in that position of the team. I think too often what teachers will do is they'll group three kids together expecting them to know how to work as a team without giving them the clear guidelines for that team to succeed. So what you would need to do as a teacher, there's a lot of prep work that would need to go into that because you would need to have one position on the team that had to go first and do a simple task and then another position on the team that has to do their own tasks. Because otherwise, you know what happens, is the kid who just wants to get it all done does everybody else's work. So the reward has to be for the team to each do their own part and succeed.

David Cicero: I think you're absolutely right about clearly defined roles, instructions, also each team member's value. What value they're going to bring, right? I like it.  Dee, I really appreciate you also joining me on this podcast. This has been a great discussion and I thank you.

Dee Maynard: I thank you so much. If listeners are interested in learning a little bit more about what we're doing, we have a quarterly newsletter that we put out. And if you just go to and then follow the links to educator resources and sign up for that newsletter and check out some of the things that we're putting there. But also, I would definitely encourage teachers to visit and see the many different ways that they can partner with NASA.


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