By Edward Cardenas

HARRISON TOWNSHIP (CBS Detroit) – Stephanie Thomas took her student teaching experience to another world Monday as she stood on a mock Martian surface overseeing a Mars rover remotely moving between marks on the ground at STARBASE One at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

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As the Lego Mindstorm rovers – which were programmed by fifth grade students from Yacks Elementary School from L’Anse Creuse Public Schools – navigated through rock hazards and multiple turns, Thomas gave words of support and high-fives to the students.

Thomas is part of a new partnership between STARBASE and the Oakland University School of Education. Through the partnership, students perform their science student teaching hours at the Harrison Township facility while gaining valuable experience in teaching science to elementary school students.

“I am glad I came. I learned a lot about classroom management and hands-on projects with the kids,” Thomas said. “It was really awesome to see them being engaged in math and excited about the rovers.”

This is the first year of the partnership between Oakland University and STARBASE which allows students to augment classroom instruction at the facility. Nearly 50 students have participated in the program thus far, teaching in the classroom and observing classes at the hi-tech schoolhouse.

STARBASE, which was first established at Selfridge in 1991 and now has locations at military installations across the country, annually hosts nearly 1,800 students from local school districts at the facility for the free program.

Students attending the five-day program are immersed in hands-on, interactive classes, experiments and projects in the classroom and in a space shuttle simulator, computer labs and a mock-up of a lab from the space station.

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The opportunity to have student teachers is beneficial for STARBASE in a number of ways. There is more one-to-one interaction between staff and students; attendees get to learn from teachers with a variety of backgrounds and aspiring teachers gain classroom management experience.

It also exposes the student teachers to a different take on learning, what some call “sneaking teaching,” which encourages kids to experiment during the learning process and embrace failure in the process of working on projects such as the Mars rover.

“They are excited about failure and they want to get in there to get this robot to work,” said Mark Muzzin, deputy director and an instructor at STARBASE.  “The feedback is built in the robot, it either works or it doesn’t work. The kids are accepting this failure as part of learning … they are becoming better observers. They observe what their robot is doing, they are seeing that change and they have to make those changes.

Having access to these modules, 3D printers and robotics programs at STARBASE – along with the opportunity for students to teach STEM – was an attractive opportunity for the university to provide to their students that they are “not likely to get anywhere else.”

“(STARBASE) gives our students confidence to be able teach advance sciences,” said Timothy Larrabee, associate professor of teacher development and educational studies at Oakland, who found the skills learned at STARBASE will transfer into the classroom.

And even though Thomas is still student teaching, she got to see the excitement from a student who successfully guided his rover and was inspired for a career through STARBASE.

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“When he got the rover to land he was so excited,” said Thomas. “He’s like, ‘I want to be a scientist.’ That is awesome.”