“Houston, We Have a Connection:” A Busy Team is a Happy Team

The end of the school year is SO busy! If you are done with your school year, I hope you are enjoying your well-deserved summer break! If you are like me and have 4 and a half days to go, we can do this.  The key to a successful mission, whether it’s to complete the Iditarod or a long-term space flight, is keeping everyone on your team busy.  My end of year lesson plans consist of a long list of different activities that help keep my students focused on our mission: reflecting, bonding, having fun together, and looking ahead.

Astronauts on long-term expeditions to the International Space Station agree that the key to avoiding quarrels, loneliness, claustrophobia, and sadness is to stay focused on the mission’s overarching objectives.  Astronauts are the busiest people! I recently attended the Crew 70 Debrief at Space Center Houston, where Commander Andreas Mogenson along with Flight Engineers Jasmin Moghbeli, Satoshi Furukawa, and Loral O’Hara shared about teamwork.  (If you are interested in how the Debriefs work, you can view the one for Crew 69 here.)

Straw and Blankets Make for a Cozy Team Nap (Photo: Terrie Hanke)

On their 199-day mission, Crew 70 conducted many kinds of science experiments, from chemistry to biology, botany and physics. They also prepared for and performed spacewalks to repair or enhance the station. Astronauts must also exercise for two hours every day to prevent muscle and bone loss, and they constantly clean, repair, and organize their orbiting home. They eat and celebrate holidays together. O’Hara described how one of their resupply capsules contained Santa hats for everyone to wear at Christmas.  A few spare moments in the Cupola observing the Earth is rejuvenation for their spirit, much like the scenery of the Iditarod Trail nourishes the spirits of mushers (and teachers!).

Expedition Crew 70 keeps busy together monitoring radiation aboard the International Space Station. Photo: NASA

Just like the ISS, Iditarod teams stay exceptionally busy before, during, and even after the race.  Before the race, mushers, handlers, family members and friends stay busy preparing drop bags, training dogs, giving tours, fundraising, and preparing sleds and gear.  They also share these activities through social media. The phrase “many hands make light work” is especially true when doing monotonous chores like cutting hundreds of pounds of frozen meat for dogs, for example.  During the race, most mushers say that focusing on their dogs and the next task at hand keeps unwanted feelings at bay.  The Iditarod is the ultimate team effort, with hard work and affection passing freely between musher, dogs, and family.

Jim Lanier Holding “Beyond Ophir” with his son Jimmy and Wife Anna Bondarenko. Photo: Iditarod Media

Knowing how important staying busy is to a successful ISS Expedition team and a successful outcome on the Iditarod trail, how can we translate this into the classroom?  Here are some of the things my 5th grade teacher team and I have been planning to keep students busy: a field trip to the Lone Star Flight Museum, designing, building and testing marshmallow catapults, creating a monthly living expenses spreadsheet in Excel, researching and impersonating a famous person in history through our Living Museum unit, PTA-sponsored Water Day, Talent Show, 5th Grade Pool Party and picnic, and a graduation ceremony!

Teachers bond at the start line of the 2024 Iditarod. Photo: Jim Deprez

The end of the year is a busy, almost frenetic time. It’s important to be intentional about how you keep your students busy, while not forgetting to acknowledge the very real feelings they may be having about their upcoming summer.  The really important lesson from both the Iditarod and from astronauts is that it’s important to keep your eyes on the larger goal. “Teamwork makes the dream work!” as my students like to say.  Email me with your teamwork ideas at emailtheteacher@gmail.com.