Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Florida Top 5 - by Ali

It was really difficult to narrow down my top five things about this trip, since it originally started with seven items and grew from there, before I had to bring it back down.  As much as I would have loved to explain why I loved every single minute of this trip, I just picked out the very best, in my opinion.

Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) 
I was really looking forward to going to Hogwarts.  From the minute I found out that it was on the trip, to the minute we arrived, it was sitting in the back of my mind, jumping up and down with excitement.  When we finally arrived, I was a bit nervous that it wouldn’t be as grand and magical as I hoped it would, but those fears were unfounded.  IT. WAS. AMAZING!!!!  I felt really immersed in the whole “Muggles in Hogsmeade” experience, and the shops, food, and villagers made it even better.  I loved getting butterbeer (it was fantastic), going on the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley, and seeing the GIANT DRAGON ON GRINGOTTS THAT BREATHED FIRE EVERY TEN MINUTES!!!!  The clothing shop mirrors that told you were looking fine, or alternatively that it really wasn’t your style.  Even seeing the people of all ages running around with wands and casting spells added to the experience.  Basically, it was awesome.

“Look at its lil’ face!”
Now, I could talk about the manatees all day, but I won’t.  Essentially, they were adorable.  It was so cool to see them in their natural habitat, where you could be swimming along in the surprisingly not frigid waters and one would rise up out of the gloom like a surfacing submarine (yes, the first time one did that, I thought it was a submarine).  It was really different to see them where they actually live, to see a bit more about how they act, as opposed to how they act merely in theory.  Then there was that one sunbathing manatee who just floated by the boat and let everyone pet him/her.  And there was the mom manatee who went drifting by with her baby, and my mind exploded with cuteness overload.  All cuteness aside, they were very beautiful creatures who just drift around happily all day, and that’s a really nice thing to watch.

Kali River Rapids (Animal Kingdom)
“I know this isn’t a picture of Kali River Rapids, or of us after getting soaked, but this picture is important and must be shared.”
I felt like I needed to single out this ride in particular.  I went on it five times with my faithful companion Jacob, who got soaking wet as well, but not as wet as the last time in which I was that ONE PERSON who got drenched... and then I never dried and had to change when we got back.  But anyways, it was so much fun to first play water roulette on who would be that ONE PERSON, and then to cackle hysterically when the newbies got on with their little ponchos and thought they were safe.  After a period of time, we felt pretty much like practiced tour guides, warning them as they looked up and down our drenched frames with horror.

 The rides in Universal Studios
*internal screaming*
Universal Studios, especially the Marvel island, was great.  I got to go on The Incredible Hulk (terrifying), both dinosaur rides (terrifying), and the Spiderman ride (not terrifying).  I can’t believe I survived the Hulk and the dino rides, but for me, the real highlight was Spiderman.  When we went on it first with the lights on so the effects were less realistic, I thought “Wow, this is amazing.  It can’t possibly get better!” and then we did it with the lights off and I thought “IT GOT BETTER HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?”  After we got to go around the back and look at how the cars and effects worked, it got so much more amazing.  For me, the best part was how the cars only move at one extremely slow speed through the track, and yet the tilting and shaking makes it feel like your speed is changing.  It was ingenious.

Team Physics and Team Geology Rocks!
Finally, I have to mention Team Physics (Becks) and Team Geology Rocks (Mama Kenks).  Throughout many of our activities and almost all our workshops, we were split into two groups, and the sense of camaraderie was brilliant.  When doing the Physics workshops, and the tours at Animal Kingdom, and pretty much anywhere else, everyone on the trip really bonded.  The very first exciting thing for me on the entire trip was Mr. Becker showing up and destroying everyone at Smash Bros.  Just being with all those people was awesome.  We got to learn about each other, compete (I’m lookin’ at you, rover building challenge), and even just hang out like at the African Buffet and Margaritaville.  The people are always the best part of anything, and I’m really glad I got to spend time with such great ones.
Thank you Mrs. Becker, Ms. Kenkel, and Mr. Becker for bringing us on this trip.  It truly was the experience of a lifetime.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Dream Fulfilled

When I was 13 years old Apollo 13 came out.  This epic tale of the "successful failure" of 1970 changed by life.  I watched it and I was hooked.  I wanted nothing more than to be an astronaut.

I watched that movie over and over again, several times a week, some times every day.  When I reached the first 100 viewings, the VHS went dead, and my mom had to buy me a new one.  When I ran that one dead I finally bought the DVD.  And when I started teaching, I bought a second DVD to leave in my classroom.

At 13 my ceiling was covered in star constellations, and the moon dangled above my desk.  My bed was placed at just the right angle to watch the moon rise from it every night.  I had lamps, candles and blankets covered with stars, shelves with books, and duotangs filled with research about the space program and the universities that would help me get there.  This was the dream.  I had to work for NASA.  And so every day I would BEG my parents to take me to Florida, to visit the Cape.  To stand where "they" stood - the men and women brave enough to leave our planet.  It just never happened.

Until November 9, 2014.

When I travel I'm usually pretty good at keeping my cool.  I'm a details person and I travel with large groups of students, who are always my priority.  But when our bus pulled into the NASA parking lot, keeping my cool wasn't an option.  I was full-on geeking out.

There are 7 parking lots at NASA.  Named for the Mercury 7 astronauts.  In order.  Parking lot 1 being Alan Shepherd, 3 being John Glenn and so on.  I wasn't even off the bus and i was vibrating in my seat.  The NASA globe greeted us, and at 9:00 am, at the opening of the park, they played the national anthem. While not "my" national anthem, it was a sign of respect and honour for all those who had served their country through expeditions into space.  I was so proud to see how instantly respectful out students were.  Then again, our Florida family here really are the best.

Our workshop started the best way possible - with a talk and Q&A with Astronaut Winston Scott.  Inspiring does not even begin to cover how I felt about hearing him speak.  The first thing that struck me was his confidence and his passion and excitement towards space flight and research.  I knew just listening to him that I never had the right temperament to be an astronaut.  I was born to teach, and there has never been a moment of regret on my path.  But knowing that I could never do what he did (and most could not display his level of confidence, calm and courage in the face of extreme circumstances such as his) just made my respect him that much more.  The second thing I love is that his Bachelor's degree is in MUSIC.  That's right.  MUSIC.  Then he went on to study engineering later.  And when the kids asked him about this, he said, "Why limit yourself to being just one thing?"  I think this is such beautiful advice.  Why indeed.  Captain Scott plays the trumpet in a NASA band, and then would fly to space.  Before that he flew "Top Gun" F-14 Tomcats for the Navy.  Now he teaches at a University and inspires others.  Why limit yourself.  He never did.

We then had a chance to participate in a Mars Rover Engineering Challenge.  I can promise future Physics students that you will be seeing this in my classroom - because it was amazing.  NASA's understanding of the scientific method, planning, testing, adjusting, testing, working together, experimenting, testing again....is really unparalleled.  And more than just the activity itself, but watching our students work together so well, and so creatively was more than I could have asked for. Ms. Kenkel and Mr. Becker got super competitive about it, but in the end lost to Parm, Emily, Danilyn and Justin - who worked together so well, had an unparalleled attention to detail, and really showed the rest of us how it's done.

There was a workshop on developments we use in our every day life because of the space garden and a stroll through the Rocket Garden.  And I got to walk along the gantry way that Neil and Buzz walked on their way to crawl into Columbia, on top of the Saturn V rocket.  The space mission to top all space missions.  The one that brought man to the moon.  And I walked up and down their path - with the bright orange bars exactly as I remembered them from every time I watched the moon launch over and over again in my teen years.  I closed my eyes and tried to image how it felt.  I'm pretty sure less frightening that it would have been for them - I wasn't 500 feet above the ground next to the world's biggest rocket - complete with rocket fuel (so powerful in fact you had to be at least 3 miles away at the time of launch).  The experience can't be adequately described - though I'm sure from the ridiculous grin on my face in the photos, you may get the idea.

After the workshop we got in line for the bus to take us 5 miles away from the main complex to the Saturn V complex - the building out near the launch pad the holds a full Saturn V rocket - worlds largest - and the rocket that was used for the Apollo (moon) Program.  Again - after almost 20 years of being passionately in love with the thought of space travel, I cannot describe what it was like to stand there - right next to it.  To see a moon vehicle, Lunar exclusion module, command module, service module, and of course, to touch a moon rock (much smoother, denser, and darker than I expected, for the record).  Sadly, we were pressed for time, so we quickly loaded back the bus to return.

And then there was the Atlantis Building.  With the now-retired Atlantis Space Shuttle - one of three remaining shuttles that has been to space.  After a short movie on how the Space Shuttle came to be (which turns out to be a brilliant story in problem solving, persistence and the scientific method), the current arose to reveal Atlantis, it all it's glory.  Goosebumps.  Ahhhh!  I was the nerd standing next to the screen, who ran out to meet it - and photograph it - before the rest of the tourists to catch up.  There was no end to my geek-out in sight!  The Atlantis building has a launch simulator that I had to miss (as I wanted time to go to the space shop! biggest in the world!!), the original prototype of the shuttle (i.e.: giant paper airplane), a space toilet, international space station model to crawl through, and of course - "emergency exits" - also known as the slide that gets you back down to the bottom floor.  NASA really does think of anything.

My only regret about this day is that I was unable to control time, to slow it down and give me the moments I needed to savour it all.  Guess I'll just have to go back again soon.

Kennedy Space Center, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Welcome to Orlando - by Shweta

TODAY IS NOVEMBER 9, 2014. Today is the day following a red eye flight in which all (or at least the most) of us kids and teachers (except Ms. Kenkel, with her skillful plane sleeping abilities) stayed up, unable to sleep on a red-eye flight from Sea-Tac International Airport to Orlando International Airport.  And while a few of us may have caught some z's in there, I know I couldn’t sleep. But I turned this struggling into a positive by buying wi-fi to use on the plane - so it wasn’t completely a total bust of time! In addition, I was grateful to have given myself a good solid whole night’s sleep the night prior to the flight, which helped. A LOT.  I realize now I prefer daytime flights over red-eye flights.  I personally find it really hard to sleep on buses or planes, or just anything that I can’t use as a bed. Plus, I feel more awake in the day (for obvious reasons), and I find it’s generally easier to be productive on daytime flights. Well, maybe "productive" is the wrong word, but during the day there is least the opportunity to socialize, and get to know your group better.  No one frowns on you for the constant chatter, and enthusiasm is encouraged, instead of stifled while you try to respect everyone attempt to fight for those few previous minutes of sleep that they can get.  But I feel really disoriented on night flights, like how one would feel after waking up from an afternoon nap. Nevertheless, it was a very tiring, but any experience required to get us to Orlando was well worth it

We hit the ground running when we landed, and let me say that entering the park was so surreal.  I was literally a zombie as we came through the gates. But sleep exhaustion aside, we jumped right into the fun (in an effort to help kick-start our adrenaline so we wouldn’t collapse onto the ground). The park we explored today was Hollywood Studios, which had some similarities to California Adventure Park in Disneyland (though Hollywood Studios is much smaller). I won’t go into a huge compare/contrast of Disneyworld and Disneyland because I’ve been to only one park here in Florida so far, and I don’t know enough about the former to criticize. But, that doesn’t mean they both don’t radiate the same magic!  I'm looking forward to seeing what the other 3 parks here at the magical World of Disney have to offer!

I swear I will not recite my whole day today, but I did want to mention that I spent half of it with Mom & Dad, (Mr. & Mrs. Becker), and Mama Kenks (Ms. Kenkel). It was time well spent, and definitely going to be continued over the near future. I love getting to spend time with teachers.  Getting to now them and enjoying time with them from a non-academic yet academic perspective (I hope that makes sense - if not, I blame it on the fact that I brain-turning-to-mush level sleepy) is really fun, and really, unlike any other fun you can enjoy.
Tomorrow, we’re going to go and explore the past and present of manned space flight, learn about engineering and other super cool stuff at NASA, and not to mention MEET AN ACTUAL ASTRONAUT, the one and only, Captain Winston E. Scott!! THE EXCITEMENT CANNOT BE CONTAINED.  I guarantee you a much more detailed story of that experience to come.

Now I am going to recharge my mind’s fried batteries. Stay tuned for more of Shweta's jumbled thoughts tomorrow!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hello World, It's Me, Shweta!

Hey there world, 

My name is Shweta Sehijpaul. I'm in the 12th grade, at Sullivan Heights, the best school anyone could ask for. As of this moment, I'm sitting at my computer, typing with a heavy pit of trepidation in my stomach, counting down the minutes to the next adventure of my life. 

Destination? Orlando, Florida. Time remaining till we're off? T-minus 5 days, 20 hours, 20 minutes and 11 seconds. Level of excitement on a scale of 1 to 10? STRAIGHT UP TO 1 MILLION!!  Have I packed yet? HA, NOPE. I'll get to that soon enough. I'm probably going to remember about half the things I didn't bring as soon as we land at the airport. (I digress quite a bit - you'll definitely see a large bit of that in my posts to come).

Anyway, why on earth am I going to Florida with 23 other students and 3 awesome teachers? FOR SCIENCE (all wrapped up together with fun with a pretty bow on top)! Florida is home to Kennedy Space Center, DisneyWorld, EPCOT, Universal Studios, and Crystal River. All of these places have a little bit (or a lot) of science woven into them, which is one of the many beautiful things about them. Physics and wildlife conservation are the naturally magical subjects we'll learn more about at Disney, we will literally dive into ecosystem education at Crystal River while swimming with manatees, we will get hands on with engineering alongside the experts over at NASA, while spending some quality time with NASA Astronaut Captain Winston E. Scott. And of course, greenhouse tours at EPCOT, learning how to build roller-coasters, studying how technology helped create the thrill-seeking rides of Universal Studios, plus so much more.

I can't wait to go and experience it all, and to share it all with you, lovely readers! Look forward to hearing tons about these, plus more about these experiences and and my thoughts in general.

Only 5 days, 20 hours, 9 minutes and 11 seconds remaining!​