The astronaut who delighted elementary students last August when she did a slow-motion, weightless backflip from inside the International Space Station is back on solid ground and visiting classrooms at Upper Arlington Wickliffe Progressive School.
Suni Williams last spoke with students via a NASA video downlink, when Wickliffe was one of six schools in the country chosen to visit with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.
NASA's Teaching from Space program made the 20-minute visit possible, but Williams has ties to Ohio and Upper Arlington -- she was born in Ohio and former Upper Arlington schools administrator Ed Orazen is her cousin. His granddaughter, Andrea Orazen, is a Wickliffe student.
Wickliffe Principal Chris Collaros said the downlink made a big impression on students and teachers.
"Ed is the one who brought the NASA downlink with the ISS possibility to our attention," he said. "He believed Wickliffe would respond favorably to such a rich and authentic learning experience -- and boy, did we!"
The downlink can be seen at nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html. Click on the "Aug. 28, 2012" link.
Williams was able to meet students in person during class visits April 22 at Wickliffe.
Collaros said teachers had students working with buddy classrooms on various experiments and design challenges for the past two weeks in preparation for the visit.
"It is such a great opportunity for the children to interact in an intimate setting with a NASA astronaut and hear her perspective on the work they are doing," he said.
First/second grade teacher Sara Giles and third-grade teacher Sabrina Walters set up a design challenge in their classroom using only wooden blocks and a pingpong ball.
"The learning group needs to work together to make (the ball) move at least three feet, three times," Giles said. "They are only allowed to flick the ball once. The children collect data, measure, retest and revise.
In Emily Meadows and Tamar Sorin's classes, students in grades 1-4 watched the NASA downlink again and were interested in the way astronauts eat in space. The students began an experiment involving dehydration and rehydration, putting apple slices in bags with air, as on earth, and without air, as in space.
Other projects students started include rocket design sketches and designs for a habitat for six astronauts to live and work in on the moon or Mars -- built with Legos.
Students also conducted experiments with water and surface tension to show how water molecules are attracted to each other, because when Williams demonstrated brushing her teeth in space, the water droplets floated and she had to "catch" them in her mouth.
In Molly Hinkle's third/fourth grade classroom and Maureen Gill's first/second grade class, students were presented with a "marshmallow experience," in which they had to build the tallest free-standing structure they could using only 20 sticks of uncooked spaghetti, a yard of masking tape, a yard of string and one marshmallow.
Collaros said he hoped students came away from the visit with an idea that their futures hold many possibilities.
"A sense that they, too, can aspire to traverse the universe as an astronaut, that anything is possible and that they have just experienced a once-in-a-lifetime experience -- for the second time," he said.