Meet the Teacher: Dana Hansen orbits Honeywell Educators at Space Academy

Payne Junior High School Teacher Dana Hansen, shown third from right, met fellow science teachers at Honeywell Educators at Space Academy. (Submitted photo)

Payne Junior High School teacher Dana Hansen was selected by Honeywell to be among more than 220 science and math teachers for a space camp.

She attended the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy, hosted by the United States Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, June 14–25, according to a press release.

The program showcases new ideas and concepts teachers can incorporate in their curriculum to inspire students to seek careers and interests in the STEM fields.

Teachers from around the world participated in 45-classroom hours, laboratory and training time, focusing on coding, science and space exploration exercises, including real astronaut training simulations, the release said.

Ms. Hansen, who’s inspired by her students, said she’s in the right profession, especially after receiving an email from a parent in May, saying a student enjoyed learning how the body works and wants to be a biochemist to research drugs and cure diseases, which is something Ms. Hansen, a cancer survivor, can appreciate.

She shared that she had bone cancer when she was seven and has been in remission for 41 years, which is why she takes a team to the Relay for Life every year, said the seventh-and eighth-grade gifted, general science teacher of three years.

Ms. Hansen shared insight on her teaching philosophy and background:

What I like most about what I do: I genuinely enjoy working with middle schoolers. They are going through such a convoluted phase in their lives, and it is NOT easy. I love creating a safe place for my students to learn, and a safe place for them to just be themselves.

The most challenging aspects of teaching: Seeing my students struggle with life situations outside of my realm to help them with, be it teen stuff like friendships, or the hardcore realities of mental health issues, family traumas, and death. All I can do is be there for them during those times, and sometimes I feel very helpless.

How will you use the knowledge learned at the camp to teach your students? There were so many valuable aspects to Space Camp and the activities we did there. I learned some very clever brainstorm/ice breakers. I am going to incorporate rocketry into my Physics unit in some degree, and I am also going to work to use more interesting chemical reactions in my Chemistry unit.

The level of engagement I felt doing the hands-on activities reinforced my practice of using project/problem based learning as the best way to get students to interact with content and improve retention.

I also learned about some incredible classroom applications and platforms to demonstrate learning from the other teachers there. The entire experience was like digging in a treasure chest of your favorite things. It was hard to take everything in, but I took notes and have a new network of like-minded educators from around the world with whom to share ideas.

What stands out most from the camp that you found interesting/beneficial? The project based learning was fun, but the most profound and helpful experiences came from interacting with teachers from all over the world. One of the ambassadors recommended a professional practice of purposeful reflection.

She suggested we set a time for reflection each month into our schedules to reflect on professional development, our students, our teaching practices, or assessments to continue to find ways to improve and motivate ourselves as teachers. I really felt that was a key to helping me improve as an educator.

How were you chosen and what interested you in attending space camp? I have no idea how I was so fortunate to be selected to attend Space Camp, but I am very grateful for the opportunity. My principal, Paul Bollard, recommended applying for it, as did my former mentor teacher, Kristi Larson, and Deepa Iyer, my son’s sixth grade teacher. Both Kristi and Deepa are alumni of the program.

Did you develop any lifelong friendships? Oh my goodness, yes! It is amazing how quickly you can bond with a group of people who are gathered for the same purpose and with a growth mindset.

One of my teammates teaches just down the road from me in Gilbert, and I am hopeful we will keep in touch. I also made tentative plans to go to Mexico and take a couple days, during our intercession, to share lesson plans and different project-based learning with my teammates who live there.

I’ve also expressed a desire to Honeywell to help form a volunteer teaching corps to help impoverished areas present engaging, problem/project-based learning to students in need. I’ve made a friend in Brazil who has invited my husband and I to come work with students there for a week next summer.

Will you inspire other females to be interested in the sciences? One of my goals as an educator has always been to inspire young women to develop an interest in science.

I have an assignment that requires my students to research a past scientist who influenced our area of content study. It took some digging, but I’ve developed a solid list of both men and women scientists who have influenced every content area for my students to research.

How I overcome those challenges: I am passionate about making my classroom a safe place. One of the most common phrases my students hear is, “that’s not how we make friends.”

Students this age, particularly gifted students, are not known for their tact, and while they may be speaking a truth, I teach them how to speak it in a way that promotes growth, not hurt.

Homeless during eighth grade — living in a tent with family, being picked up by school bus at the campground — Ms. Hansen understands bullying and the need to have a safe place to go “at a level many people simply cannot begin to imagine,” she stated, adding, “Outside my classroom, their world may be a whirlwind of crazy, but my door is always open to them as a refuge in the storm so to speak.”

My classroom philosophy: I put my students first. What I teach them, how I teach them, and why I teach them all centers on one question, “Is what I’m doing going to strengthen my students as life-long learners, and productive members of society?” I think many people forget that the two roles are very interconnected. I focus on helping the whole student grow within the platform of content knowledge standards.

How I handle difficult days: I don’t have many difficult days, but when I do, it usually means my students struggled with a comprehension of a concept. I go home, reflect on the day and try to come up with a more effective way to communicate the information and try again. I also rely a lot on the team of teachers within the science and gifted departments at Payne. They are an incredible resource as well.

How I prepare my students for the future: I teach them how to think critically about the natural world, how to work collaboratively, and how to communicate their learning effectively. I teach them how social media can impact people’s perceptions and how those perceptions should always be looked at in the face of data, and the science behind those perceptions. Perception doesn’t equal truth, even if it’s gone viral.

My best memory as a teacher is: My first year teaching, I took a team of students to the Relay for Life to raise money for the American Cancer Society. After we walked the memorial lap in honor of loved ones, who have battled cancer, I finished my lap to see all those students in this huge group hug just crying openly over their losses. I feel like those students had an incredible connection to each other that would last beyond high school. Some of them still join my team every year.

Another favorite memory was when my students and I were invited to be panelists at what was then the Phoenix Comic Fest. We were doing a student led physics in action panel, teaching children in the science room how to make a toy top and the physics behind it. Because it happened outside of school’s normal session, we all met at the light rail station, and seeing those 20 excited faces in full cosplay filling the train and ready to share what they learned was an incredible feeling.

My advice to future teachers: Be purposeful and remember no matter how snarky or how bad they smell sometimes, they are just kids, and they need someone to help them figure out all the crazy that comes with adolescence and middle school.

What does your family consist of, ie: pets, kids, spouse, parents, etc.? I have been married to my husband Joe for 21 years this September. We have four children, two daughters who are grown and have two children each, a daughter who attends Chandler-Gilbert Community College and a son who attends Perry High School.

We have five ball pythons, a carpet python, an Argentine Black and White Tegu, a Chinese Water Dragon, a German Giant Bearded dragon, two other bearded dragons, a crested gecko, a sandfish, two pet rats, two cats, and a 130-pound American Bulldog.

My most embarrassing moment in a classroom: I am a horrible artist. My drawings are legend among my students, not for their accuracy, but for the fact they never end up looking like I intend. My students love it when I try to diagram things for them. I have learned to use illustrations from the internet instead.

What one incident in a classroom or with a student convinced me that I chose the right occupation? I honestly can’t choose one. I wake up every school day excited to go do my job. I never felt that working in human resources. If I had to pick one instance, it would be seeing the effort my all-girls team put into a recent aerospace competition.

To this day, I don’t know why they weren’t recognized for their efforts, but even when I was discouraged, the girls still called it “fun,” to see them persist in a positive perspective in the face of no reward or recognition was incredibly rewarding.

If you were the state superintendent of schools, what one thing would you do to improve schools in Arizona? I would urge the implementation of NGSS science standards and do all I could to encourage our state to create a dedicated source of funding for education.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.