This past summer, Calvary Christian School science teacher Ed Tymes traveled across the country to California to prepare the Columbus private school for a special mission.
Calvary is the first Southeastern school out of 50-plus members in the Quest for Space program learning to create an experiment that will fly on the International Space Station. So he also brought home this motto for Calvary’s seven high school students in this inaugural class:
“The sky is not the limit.”
Tymes explained, “Here, we’re learning science and teaching kids to do hands-on science and give them an appreciation for science and engineering such that, for maybe one of these kids, the sky won’t be their limit. They may be the guy on Mars.”
Calvary headmaster Jim Koan, in his first year at the school, told Tymes about the program. Koan learned about it from a former colleague, the headmaster of Valley Christian School in San Jose, where the Quest for Space program, in conjunction with NASA, is based at the Quest Institute for Quality Education.
Quest for Space is an ISS Partner Program that trains students to create experiments that can be conducted aboard the International Space Station. The program helps schools enhance the STEM subjects of science, technology, math and engineering. In his 39th year as an educator, Tymes said this is the kind of course he has yearned to teach his whole career.
“It’s probably almost 80 percent lab, research, student-designed experiments,” he said. “My major thrust, and the research proves it, is that students learn best by doing science rather than hearing people profess science and hopefully memorize a bunch of material to pass a test. We are concerned about students understanding theory, laws of science, and then be able to apply it and critically think in the real world.”
Tymes taught and was assistant principal for a combined 26 years at the former Tri-County High School in Marion County then was principal for seven years Central-Talbotton High School. After retiring in 2012 from public education, he quickly joined Calvary Christian because “I couldn’t sit around doing nothing, so I got right back into doing what I love most, and that’s teaching science.”
In the first year of the program, costing the seven students $500 each for lab fees, they are doing ground-level experiments. They will compare their data to the same experiments performed on the International Space Station to determine the effects of the different conditions. Next year, they can design their own space-level experiment to be submitted to NASA with the hope that it will meet the standards necessary to be included on the ISS in the spring of 2019. Such a privilege will cost Calvary $25,000, Tymes said.
“We’ll have to fundraise it,” he said.
Tymes hoped the seven students in the program’s inaugural year at Calvary would have included at least one girl, “but we’ll get there, now that everyone is hearing all the neat stuff we’re doing.”
This year’s experiments will cover heat transfer by radiation, natural convection, forced convection, conduction and humidity. The students also will do labs teaching them skills in civil engineering, chemical engineering and mechanical engineering. “So when they finish this course,” Tymes said, “they’re going to know what engineering is about.”
Next year, the Calvary students will design an experiment that fits in a 3-by-2-by-3 inch cube and meets NASA specifications to fly on the ISS.
“For $25,000, that’s how much space you get,” Tymes said with a smile.
The experiment’s circuitry must be able to download the data from the ISS to NASA and eventually to the school. Although that stage is a year away, Calvary students already are thinking about possible ideas for their space experiment.
“I’d like to see if different fluids expand a different rate in microgravity,” said sophomore Guy Worley, 15.
Calvary senior Ben Whitted, 17, won’t be back at Calvary next year to help this group prepare an experiment for space, but he figures taking this class even for one year will help him reach his career goal.
“My dream ever since I was a kid has been to grow up and be the type of engineer who builds a spaceship,” Ben said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Georgia Tech, and I feel like this is a great way to make that dream come true.”
Calvary sophomore James Brewster, 15, wants to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and become an astronaut. “So this is right up my alley, and this is a college-level class,” he said.
James noted he already has learned how to calculate the velocity of a satellite 300 miles from Earth.
“It’s pretty cool to see the science behind how stuff is in space and what determines the height of an orbit,” James said.
Guy praised Tymes for combining subject mastery with a compelling teaching style.
“He’s been doing this for a while, so he knows what he’s talking about, and he makes it interesting,” Guy said.
Tymes insists his students first design experiments using components without electronics. Only then does he allow them to use a computer for the experiments. The purpose, he said, is to show students, “once you see the problems, how can you make it easier with technology?”
After all, Tymes added, “Computers were designed by people who didn’t have computers. They understood the mathematics and the science well enough so they could apply it and develop something.”
In fact, Calvary could have joined the ISS phase of the Quest for Space program in the first year, but Tymes chose the more methodical two-year pace.
“The students, unless they already know a lot about electricity, it would take you forever to learn circuitry and breadboarding,” Tymes said. “So they’re coming in at the ground level and getting their feet wet. Then next year, they’ll be ready to make that move. Plus, it will give us time to find the right engineer.”
Schools are required to have a licensed engineer as part of their Quest for Space program during the ISS phase. Tymes welcomes any licensed engineer who would like to volunteer and help Calvary with this program to email him at email@example.com.