By reaching for the stars, HOU TRA, Tim Spuck, wins the McAuliff Award
Publication date: 1998-05-17. OIL CITY – Whether he is teaching about the
earth or about space, Tim Spuck has had a vision that students should
be doing real science in the classroom.
Monday, the Oil City High School earth and space sciences teacher will be
honored as the 1998-99 winner of the Christa McAuliffe Teacher Fellowship.
The award will enable Spuck to expand his vision and bring real space science
into more classrooms worldwide.
"It’s WOW! is what it feels like," said Spuck. "To me, the
McAuliffe award is really neat. What it does is provide an opportunity to take
something I believe in very strongly from an educational philosophy perspective
and take the time and work on it."
The fellowship is a living memorial to the nation’s first teacher chosen to
serve as an astronaut. Sharon Christa McAuliffe died in the Challenger Space
Shuttle explosion in January 1986.
Each year one outstanding teacher from each state is recognized with the fellowship,
worth about $40,000. It is funded through a federal appropriation.
In Pennsylvania the program is administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education
Assistance Agency. PHEAA officials said Spuck, 32, was selected for the award
for his work in developing an astronomy education research initiative between
high school students and scientists.
" He is an outstanding science teacher and outstanding educator," Oil
City Schools Superintendent Steve Pikna said of Spuck. "I know of no one
more worthy of this award."
The fellowship will enable Spuck to further develop the Hands-On Universe
asteroid search project, which he piloted at Oil City High School this year.
Hands-On Universe makes it possible for students to request images of astronomical
objects over the phone and via the Internet from an international gallery of
observatories. With powerful software from the Hands-On Universe program, they
can use classroom computers to search for exploding stars in distant galaxies
or asteroids in our own solar system; zoom in on the blazing halo of the eclipsed
sun; or manipulate rich-hued portraits of other planets, according to Amelia
Marshall, program coordinator.
Students learn astronomy, physics and mathematics by doing scientific problem-solving,
Marshall said, and in the process they become collaborators with professional
Under Spuck’s leadership, Oil City High School was one of the first 40 schools
in the nation selected to participate in the Hands-On Universe program.
In early 1994, two of Spuck’s students, Heather Tartara and Melody Spence, "snapped" the
first photographs of a newly discovered supernova in a whirlpool galaxy 12
million light years away using the computer in their classroom through Hands-On
Universe. The girls" feat set the world of astronomers, astrophysicists
and science educators abuzz and was the subject of international news reports.
Spence and Tartara receive joint credit in scientific literature relating
to the supernova, which is a type of variable star that suddenly and dramatically
increases in brightness.
Hands-On Universe’s asteroid search project was conceived and developed by
Spuck and Hughes Pack a high school science teacher in Northfield, Mass., Marshall
In the asteroid search program, students obtain images of the far reaches
of the solar system and filter them to locate and identity asteroids.
" We’ve done the piloting this year and have worked out a lot of the bugs
in the system, but there are still a couple of bugs we need to work out," Spuck
said. "Those are the types of things I will be working on this summer."
Spuck said the McAuliffe Fellowship will pay for additional training to enable
him to verify asteroids found by students for the Minor Planet Center at Cambridge,
Mass. The center is charged with keeping track of asteroids, establishing their
orbits and determining if they might ever threaten the Earth.
He said the fellowship also will reimburse the school district to allow him
to spend half his school day next school year further developing the asteroid
search project and expanding it to other schools throughout the world.
" I love the idea of science research in the classroom, and this is it," Spuck
said. "I have often viewed my goal in education being to bridge the gap
between what happens in professional science and science education, and this
is a major bridge."
A native of Reynoldsville, Jefferson County, Spuck is a graduate of DuBois
Area High School and Jefferson County Vocational-Technical School. He earned
his bachelor’s degree from Clarion University in 1988. He began his teaching
career that fall at Oil City High School.
He and his wife Christine, 32, are the parents of two sons, Jordan, 12, and
Two years ago Spuck was honored with the Tandy Prize as one of the top 100
science, math and technologies teachers in the country.
He said the McAuliffe Fellowship and Tandy Prize are not his alone, but represent
the commitment of the school district and the support of a number of local
trusts and organizations that have supported science education.
" I have been very happy with the opportunities I have had teaching at
Oil City High School and the opportunities the school district has allow me
to become a part of," Spuck said. "It is really neat happening to
me, but it is far more crucial for our school."
May 16, 1998
Times Publishing Company
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