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Local teachers honoured by PM

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Teachers from two Winnipeg schools received Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence from Stephen Harper at a ceremony in Ottawa Wednesday.

The Shaftesbury High School team of Adrian Deakin, April McKnight and Robert Striemer and Garden City Collegiate teacher Jeffrey Cieszecki received certificates of excellence.

Beyond their regular work in the classroom, the Shaftesbury teachers have supported and mentored more than 50 science, chemistry and physics students from grades 9 to 12 in SHARP — Shaftesbury High Altitude Robotics Project — which has launched payloads of scientific gear and accumulated data from the upper echelons of Earth’s atmosphere.

The excitement builds among the students as the project takes shape and the launch date grows nearer, McKnight said Wednesday night from Ottawa.

"They take great ownership of the project," she said. "They talk about nothing else at that time."

Students first launched a high-altitude balloon in 2009 with a high-resolution camera that took pictures of the curvature of the Earth. They use an amateur radio to steer the balloon back to the ground once the data is collected, Deakin said.

When the SHARP idea was first presented to them, the teachers knew there was some hard work ahead. The interest from students, however, turned it into an educational success story, he said.

"I don’t think any of us could have imagined the scope of the project at the time," said Deakin. "The kids are learning on their own terms and it’s allowed us to refine our teaching process."

Because the work in setting up the experiments takes place during lunch hours and in spare time, the students’ focus shifts from worrying about marks to the team’s success, said Striemer.

"It’s a lot of work and no credit, no test, no pass-fail, no negative feelings about not doing well," said Striemer, who has been at Shaftesbury since 2001. "It’s authentic learning. It’s much more engaging for kids than memorizing facts."

Last year, students sent a geiger counter up in the balloon and lessons about how much radiation there was in the atmosphere sunk in when the students collected the data, McKnight said.

SHARP’s next launch is scheduled for Oct. 23 at Elkhorn Resort near Riding Mountain National Park.

Cieszecki also uses space and high-altitude ballooning to teach and inspire grades 7 to 12 students at Garden City Collegiate and students from across Manitoba. The Win-Cube Satellite Project has entered its fifth year and next spring they plan launches in Winnipeg, Thompson and with partners at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, Cieszecki, a UND space studies grad, said.

Win-Cube, and the Manitoba Space Adventure Camp, which Cieszecki helped found, has attracted students from places such as Carman and Thompson and part of Win-Cube’s project next spring will include a launch from Manitoba’s northern city.

"We’re trying to inspire kids from around the province, to promote aerospace in Manitoba.

He’s helped students launch 11 high-altitude balloons that have studied topics such as the jetstream and atmospheric temperatures, he said.

"It’s just a really neat experience," Cieszecki said. "And I have no intention of slowing down."

Receiving a certificate of achievement was Zane Zalis of Miles Macdonell Collegiate, who created the Prodigy voice ensemble in 1983, which has performed for the Queen and with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Chantal Kreviazuk, Tom Jackson and Loreena McKennett.

Manitoba teachers who also received certificates of achievement were Devon Caldwell of Oak Lake Community School and Linda Dinsdale of Ecole New Era School in Brandon.

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