STORY: NASA, CSI and a Teacher

Belynda Songer

COCHRAN, GEORGIA: Bringing NASA and CSI to students in Houston County is something that Belynda Songer does everyday, and she loves it.

Belynda, who attended Middle Georgia College (now called Middle Georgia State University) in the mid-1980s, was born in Iowa, but she said, “I have lived in Georgia much longer than I did in Iowa.”

She has been teaching for a long time. “I have been teaching in some manner for more than 25 years, “ Belynda explained. “I was teaching a natural childbirth class … however, I decided to go back to school to become a certified science teacher in Georgia in 2009.”

Belynda is a mom. “I have four amazing humans as children.”

“Before I was a teacher, I was a medical lab tech, and workeBelynda has the coolest job working with students and talking about rockets and CSI stuffd in several hospitals in the middle Georgia area,” she stated. “I subbed for several years as I was in school for education, and currently, I hold a bachelor in education science, a masters in curriculum and education, and have a masters level NASA Endeavor STEM certificate through NASA and the Teachers College at Columbia University.”

Belynda continued, “I have been lucky to have had several unique opportunities as an educator.”

She added, “I did not step into education in my early 20s, in fact I wanted to go to art school and did get accepted.”

But life switched her directions. “I decided a more stable job was best, so, I went to work for the military in California.”

Belynda said, “Letterman Army Medical Center in San Francisco was a training hospital. This is where I decided I wanted to work in the lab. A few years later. my parents had moved to Georgia due to my dad’s job, and I was ready to come back to college, so I finished my degree in medical lab technology at MGC, and worked in the hospital locally, and then in North Georgia.”

“Kids came along and I was able to stay home with them until they were school age. Only when the youngest was ready for kindergarten did I start looking at my education again and doing what I really wanted to do, so I transferred my science background into an education degree and completed it while I worked.”

She shared more. “I got to experience the virtual world of education and teaching online for a few years. At that time I started attending NASA STEM Workshops at the Museum of Aviation’s NASA RERC (Regional Educators Resource Center).”

Belynda said, “Soon, I was working there part-time … supporting the education center and STEM workshops and camps.”

“The NASA RERC and the museum was awarded a NASA STEM grant to serve six middle schools in four local counties by teaching STEM in all core classes,” she continued. “I started full time with them then and got take advantage of so many NASA opportunities. I loved organizing workshops for teachers and taking NASA lessons to students.”

Belynda said, “I worked with some of the best people who are now my closest friends. Eventually, a summer internship came available at Kennedy Space Center of which I applied. I got the internship and spent that summer writing a children’s book for NASA Launch Services for kindergarten through fifth grade students.”

“The book is about one of the rockets Launch Services has and includes tons of teacher resources and activities like rocket building. It tells a story about their smallest rocket, Pegasus and its called Pegasus, Flying with a little help from my friends.” she added. To receive a copy of the book and other resources, click here.

“I have always liked school and I think I have always been interested in how people learn,” Belynda stated, “When my kids were little, I enjoyed teaching them or watching them teach themselves. I just felt like its what I should be doing. I love teaching high school, but students of all ages are fun. I have volunteered with all ages.”

She said, “Adults sometimes are the most fun! I am teaching a seminar at the Georgia STEM/STEAM Conference in a few days. We have such a good time with a room full of teachers.”

In her spare time, Belynda reads. “I do not watch a lot of television, but every once in a while I will find something I like and binge (Stranger Things, The Umbrella Academy, Mind Hunter, Big Bang Theory),” Belynda stated.

“I read all of the time, and I have a stack of books by the bed at all times,” she said. “I collect antique books … especially those on science.”

Belynda said, “When I was a kid I loved to write my own books and illustrate them myself. I continued to do that for my children when they were small.”

She added, “My favorite books are the Little Golden Books that my Aunt Mary used to read to me when I was a child. I still have them. That is why I love to read to this day. I love historical fiction, but I love all books. I don’t have a favorite.”

Belynda currently teaches at a high school in Houston County. “I love it,” she exclaimed. “When I got my broad field science teaching certificate I was given some very good advice from a teacher friend. She said to go right back and take the GACE for Special Education(SPED). She said it would always be something I could use.”

She said, “I am using all my certificates teaching high school SPED Science. I teach small group classes, and at times I co-teach larger classes.”

Belynda works with students in school and as a volunteer. (Songer Photos)

“Having small classes is amazing. It gives me a chance to do many hands on things that I might have a challenge to do with a larger class,” Belynda said. “The kids have a great time and we laugh a lot. I teach physical science, and that turns into Hogwarts or Star Wars and definitely NASA, but I also get to teach forensics to 12th grade.”

She explained, “Forensics is a super interesting class and is a true STEM class in itself. It includes a little bit of all sciences. We study anthropology/anatomy, genetics and DNA evidence, investigation and trace evidence, and we tackle our own crimes and investigations like when ‘someone’ kidnapped our class mascot, ‘Ted Bundy-’ the teddy bear.”

“We learn how to identify handwriting samples and fingerprints. It is so interesting and engaging for the students and I learn something new almost every day. We have quite a bit of community involvement as the local investigators visit our class to talk about finger printing, blood spatter and answer any questions we can come up with.”

Belynda said, “Recently, I added art to my certificate – something that I have always had a passion for and include in my lessons as often as possible.”

She said, “There is a set of state standards for all of my classes. Standards are the skeleton of what you teach. It is putting the meat on them that is the fun part.”

“I think in general my students enjoy class. This year one student said, ‘I thought I was going to hate science but now its my favorite class,’” Belynda said. “That’s what makes learning happen …when they students have fun.”

“Ultimately, the reason I can do as much with them as I do, is that I have an amazing administration. They truly want what is best for the students, and they trust their teachers can provide an engaging environment,” she commented. “They are super supportive, even when I ask them to be part of the kidnapping of a teddy bear.”

Belynda stated, “Both classes teach life skills. Physical science is about every day life. They just need to start realizing it. I use a lot of NASA lessons which are project based/problem based. The students are getting used to me giving them some simple materials and asking them to make amazing things happen.”

She said, “At first, they looked at me and said, ‘Aren’t you going to tell us what to do?’ The answer is always ‘Nope.’ I usually give them three rules that go something like this. The first is to use tape, glue and cardboard and make this shoe box fly. Number two is you cannot alter the shape of the shoe box. The third is to pay attention to what I didn’t tell you.”

“The number three rule is always the same no matter the project. I’ve seen some serious engineering going on, and now they don’t ask to be told what to do.”

Belynda said, “In forensics, it is more about showing them how to use the previous experience in science they have had like from biology, and how does it help you identify decomposition, or what caused this bone fracture and what direction was the force applied?”

“Forensics requires a lot of critical thinking and thinking outside the box. They learn to pay attention to detail and find hard evidence that may be invisible to the naked eye,” she stated. “There are so many jobs in forensics, and several schools in Georgia now offer a forensics major. I think some of them will start looking at those jobs.”

When asked if she had a favorite quote, Belynda came up with a good one. “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you will land in the stars.” That came from Normal Vincent Peale.