Maryville fourth grade teacher Joe Suchan attended a STEMcon space camp at the United States Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL, July 8 through 11.

STEMcon stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The camp is specifically designed for educators and costs more than $900. NASA awards grants to teachers, allowing them to attend the conference for free. This is the third year NASA has offered the grants. They will continue to award grants for one more year.

Educators from five states attended and Suchan was one of three teachers from Missouri. He said the camp was not filled and he encourages teachers to take advantage of the grant opportunity.

STEM-focused education encourages students to lead their own learning. STEM activities ask students to apply knowledge from multiple sources, identify a problem and find their own solutions. 

“We need our kids to think outside the box, for our own environment, our healthcare, everything. We need the kids to be problem solvers. It is my mission to help them,” said Suchan.

The four-day modified space camp focused on strategies to incorporate STEM activities in the classroom. Educators split into teams and experienced several STEM activities.

One of the activities Suchan and his team completed was building a heat-resistant shield to protect an egg from five minutes of extreme heat. This simulated the effect on astronauts re-entering the atmosphere.

To complete the task, teams were given a budget. They designed their shields and built test prototypes. Next, teams reevaluated and redesigned their shields, if needed. This is the same experiment process Suchan said his students will follow in the classroom.

Suchan’s team was also assigned to the space shuttle simulator. Suchan was a shuttle pilot and their mission was to transport astronauts to a space station and back to earth. While Suchan piloted the shuttle, other team members completed scientific tests and simulated making shuttle repairs. Suchan and his team used the same simulators that real astronauts use in their training.

Suchan applied to the space camp in order to better prepare his students for middle school. Maryville Middle School is incorporating the STEM-based program, Project Lead the Way, in their discovery lab. 

“I was glad to have this opportunity to better teach younger grade levels and to help provide them a solid foundation that will help them transition to the middle school,” said Suchan.

Suchan already teaches a space unit in his fourth grade classroom and has plans to expand the unit. He wants to teach the STEM process and show students how science and math work together. He plans to use some of the available NASA lesson plans as well as create his own.

“It is my personal goal to continue to develop STEM activities that can be duplicated by any teacher in the country with cost effectiveness and to promote STEM at the elementary level. This experience has inspired me to teach my students about things they may not learn anywhere else,” said Suchan.

Suchan intends to stay in contact with the educators he met at space camp, stating that the teacher networking was invaluable.

Educators interested in receiving notification emails for upcoming camps can contact April Adcock at or call 256.722.5638. Individuals can find the grant application on NASA’s website.

Joe Suchan pilots a space shuttle simulator during space camp.

Joe Suchan pilots a space shuttle simulator during space camp.