Celebrate National Space Day, and sit down with us as we discuss STEM Education with Aerospace Engineer, Tanner McMakin.
Renowned naturalist Edwin Way Teale once said, “All things seem possible in May.” If you consider the incredible discoveries scientists have made with regard to space exploration, then no month is more fitting for National Space Day than the month of May. Thimble.io was over the moon with excitement when we saw this day approaching on our calendar.
What is National Space Day? A Guide for K-12 Educators
On the first Friday of May each year, educators in every grade have the opportunity to bring the vastness of space into their classrooms by celebrating National Space Day. This holiday is dedicated to recognizing and applauding the achievements in space exploration and space flight. The day serves to inspire the next generation of space scientists and explorers.
First celebrated in 1997, this important event is marked on the calendar of space enthusiasts, educators, and STEM organizations nationwide. It’s the perfect opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of space exploration, scientific research, and technological innovation. At Thimble.io we love pointing out that STEM learning is the foundation on which all of those things are built. We will light candles on a cake any day if it promotes interest in STEM learning for any child. Break out the balloons and don’t be shy about those party hats!
If you’re an educator, or a stakeholder in an organization that has the opportunity to engage children in STEM learning, don’t let this day slip out of your orbit. There are as many ways to celebrate this day as there are stars in the sky. Activities that get K-12 students interested in space are endless, but let us hand-pick a few shining stars for you.
Here are some great ways you can blast off into National Space Day 2023 with your students:
- Design a solar system model to scale. Students could work together to create a model of the solar system, labeling each planet and placing them at appropriate distances from the “sun”.
- Build and launch rockets with recycled materials. Use paper, straws, tape, or plastic to design and build simple rockets in a group setting. Launch the rockets outdoors and measure the distance traveled. Supercharge this lesson by observing failures and making changes to the original prototype!
- Have a space-themed movie day. Watch an educational film such as “Hidden Figures”, or “Apollo 13.”. Have students write a reflection paragraph on what they’ve learned from the movie.
- Choose from dozens of NASA-published STEM engagement activities that are all space related. From experiments about microgravity’s effects on muscle tone to discovering Black Holes.
- Design a space mission. Separate students into small groups and have them design a space mission to explore a planet or moon in our solar system. They could research the planet or moon and come up with a plan for the spacecraft, instruments, and training needed to carry out the mission.
- Log onto the International Space Station for live views from space!
The key to choosing and implementing a hands-on project or STEM learning activity is to make sure it is engaging, but also promotes interest in science and leaning into students’ natural curiosity.
Thimble.io is Over The Moon for This Holiday, and Here’s Why:
At Thimble.io, we love National Space Day. Space exploration wouldn’t be where it is today without curious minds, STEM-engaged learners, and scientists willing to tinker and create, fail, and try again. Our coding and robotics kits are designed to teach students the skills and knowledge needed to pursue a plethora of careers in science, technology, and engineering. These fields are critical for the advancement of space exploration and the development of new space technologies. Space travel, galactic observation, and computer programs that can calculate the immeasurable number of miles between stars and planets are all made possible because of innovation, creativity, robotics, and coding.
The importance of equitable, accessible STEM education cannot be stressed enough. We’ll have a party every chance we get if it’s to celebrate and recognize the impact that STEM learning has on our society as a whole. By participating in National Space Day, Thimble.io hopes to inspire educators and promote the relevance of coding, robotics, and engineering in space exploration and all related fields.
We celebrated by tapping into the bright young mind of Aerospace Engineer Tanner McMakin. Join us as we interview a STEM superstar who should get his own cake on National Space Day.
An Aerospace Engineer’s Perspective: Sitting Down with Tanner McMakin on National Space Day
Tanner McMakin has always been a fan of airplanes. “You can ask anyone. I am obsessed. I’ve been flying since I was a baby and it just stuck.” So it’s no surprise that McMakin graduated Magna Cum Laude from West Virginia University with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering. He’s the president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers as well as a Manufacturing Processes Teaching Assistant at WVU.
We sat down with Tanner to talk about everything from his own K-12 STEM education experience to his recent role in the aerospace division with Eaton, a global company leading the way in innovative power management solutions. McMakin and the manufacturing engineers at Eaton help improve and implement new innovations to product lines and ensure quality for all of their customers.
Thimble.io: In your own words, what exactly does an Aerospace Engineer do?
Tanner: Aerospace Engineers can work in several different fields. Aeronautical engineers mainly work within the atmosphere. This could include airplanes, research missiles, cars, and even boats! Astronautical engineers mainly focus on space. This usually looks like designing rockets, material science, and even habitat design.
Thimble.io: It seems like every little kid at one point or another says they want to be an astronaut or see space. While “astronaut” isn’t exactly your title, space is definitely in your business! When did that start for you? How old were you when you became seriously interested in STEM learning and more specifically Aerospace Engineering?
Tanner: To be frank, I really struggled with math and science growing up. It was hard to grasp those concepts. Eventually, something just clicked. I really have my high school science teachers to thank for showing me my passion. Physics was probably my favorite subject. High school is where I became familiar with my love for math as well. Combining my love for airplanes, space, math, and physics – well, the answer was in front of my face. Aerospace was what I needed to do to follow all of my passions.
Thimble.io: What has been the biggest challenge in getting to where you are today in your professional journey?
Tanner: Timing. Building a career during the pandemic was hard. Getting rejection after rejection was difficult. The pandemic had really hurt the Aerospace market. I was lucky that Eaton saw potential and took a chance with me. I will always be grateful for that opportunity.
Thimble.io: What do you love most about the work that you do?
Tanner: Work for me is like coming in every day and solving a sudoku. It’s the challenge of a puzzle and really puts my skills to the test. Experimenting with new improvements or working with colleagues on new solutions is really what drives me. Also, knowing the work I do is making the world a better place.
Thimble.io: At Thimble.io, we really enjoy bringing the basics of coding and robotics to our students and helping them climb the ladder of capabilities in those areas. How often would you say coding and robotics are a part of your daily life at work?
Tanner: Every single day. Coding has become a fundamental building block to my education and my work skills. This translates into designing controls for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), and designing simulations for solid rocket motors at school. At work, coding can help to really revolutionize production.
Thimble.io: Thinking back through your time with Eaton and your college experiences, what project have you been involved in in the past that really stands out to you?
Tanner: My favorite project was one I worked on recently in school. My team and I have been designing, with code, a simulation for rocket motor burns during operation. It tracks how our solid rocket motor will burn over time and then we decide how to improve our design. This is done by changing the shape of the burn pattern of the motor. I also can’t forget working on designing a UAV from scratch in my capstone class and watching it actually fly. It was a very rewarding experience in both projects.
Thimble.io: Since 1997, the first Friday in May each year has been celebrated as “National Space Day”. This day is an opportunity for us at Thimble.io and educators everywhere to raise awareness about the importance of the work that space scientists and engineers like yourself are doing. It’s a great day to inspire the next generation of STEM learners. What words of advice would you have for middle or high school students that may be interested in studying space or space travel in some way?
Tanner: What got me through engineering school and following my passions was by remembering two things.
- Never give up. It will seem hard. Engineering comes with a lot of responsibility, so your educators will push you to make sure you’re doing your best.
- Never forget. Never forget that the work you do will help not only your community but all the people on Earth.
Thimble.io: One of our passions here at Thimble.io is making sure that every kid, no matter where they are, gets the opportunity to be introduced to high-quality STEM learning. We develop a STEM curriculum series that teaches kids the basics of coding and robotics, as well as some more advanced engineering concepts. They get the opportunity to work with soldering, sensors, electrical components, basic circuits, and more. We consider it our privilege to prepare the workforce of the future and hopefully inspire a love of STEM learning in students who otherwise may not have considered a career in a science or tech industry. It goes without saying that days like National Space Day are important to us. Thinking back, did you get to experience high-quality, hands-on STEM learning in middle and high school? Was coding and/or robotics a big part of your everyday curriculum? If not, was it at least an extra-curricular option? And lastly, do you think there should be a greater emphasis on hands-on technology training in K-12 curriculum – more specifically grades 6-12?
Tanner: When I was in high school, a lot of the amazing tech we have now was still readily available. For example, 3D printing was still a very new thing to the public, and very expensive. Luckily, I had some amazing teachers who helped create learning programs to encourage STEM interest. Programs such as Seaperch, which was a design competition for creating remote-controlled underwater vehicles to participate in annual challenges.
In college, WVU offers local schools the opportunity to participate in the “Pumpkin Drop”. My club, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, sponsors this activity where competing students design an apparatus to protect a pumpkin after it is dropped 10+ stories. It’s a great way for students to get hands-on experience with STEM. We need to create more ways for students to get involved with STEM. It’s such a great way for students to discover their passions.
Shoot for the Moon on Space Day 2023
The impact that advancements in space education could have on the future is unpredictable and priceless. Our roles as educators and leaders of today’s youth are critical in developing the next generation of space innovators. Continue exploring the wonders of space and all STEM subjects. Get involved on May 5th, 2023, and celebrate National Space Day with Thimble.io. Inspire your learners to step into a role in the broader STEM community – and give them the tools they need to pursue their passions. Ready to take the first step in inspiring future STEM leaders? Start small- so your students can dream big. Remember, “All things seem possible in May.” Schedule a demo with Thimble.io today.