NASA is reminding teachers going back to school this fall of all the inspiring ways their students can participate in space adventures and get a taste of influencing the astronauts’ daily work on the International Space Station (ISS). Being involved with real life space explorers gives kids the thrill of interacting with larger-than-life figures. The project gives students an inside look at the astronauts’ life and work. The excitement about communicating with astronauts and having some impact on what they do can help teachers spark enthusiasm and interest in science and space exploration to keep kids motivated to learn.
Expedition Earth and Beyond at NASA offers students the chance to not only browse the photo gallery at Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, but to request that the astronauts take specific images to help them with classroom research projects. The CEO science team reviews each online request and notifies the class of an approval within 14 days. The time it takes for the astronauts to actually capture the desired image varies. However, when the photograph is ready, the teacher will receive it via email.
In a similar vein, the Sally Ride EarthKAM reaches out to teachers, students and the larger community to share a view of Earth from space. During operational mission periods, middle schoolers from many countries can request images of particular Earth locations. The EarthKAM is permanently attached to the ISS, completing approximately four photographic missions each year. Students and teachers can also access the camera’s searchable image archive. The related activities are designed to elicit fascination for space and earth science with cross-curricular exploration in social studies, communications, geography, math and art.
Even physical education teachers can incorporate the space adventure theme into their curriculum using NASA’s Fit Explorer Mission Handouts to inspire students to participate in fitness challenges similar to astronaut training. Each mission consists of vocabulary, NASA facts and safety rules to follow during the fitness mission. Students receive a mission briefing, purpose and assignment to complete and practice on an ongoing basis. The educator guide provides background material and activity suggestions for the teacher, as well as tips on monitoring and assessing each mission.
Technology-minded educators have the opportunity to allow their students to participate in a robotics programming contest using SPHERES satellites onboard the ISS. Students must program their satellites with strategies regarding rotation, velocity, direction and so on to solve the challenges within the game. The challenges require them to navigate roadblocks and pick up various objects and conserve fuel and charge, all while working against a deadline and within code length limitations. The program is free to teams of five to 20 students with a mentor to supervise their work. The activities move from virtual simulations in the first several rounds to a live final in microgravity at the space station. The championship is broadcast live under astronaut supervision.
Teachers can arrange for students to talk to real life astronauts through ARISS, the Amateur Radio program at the ISS. Calls take place in a 10-minute window as the ISS passes overhead. Students can ask the astronauts questions about life in zero gravity or space science in general.
Schools can also request a personal appearance from a returned astronaut, either in-person or by Skype video conference. The contact time for the radio, video or live appearance is free and NASA encourages schools to make it a community event. The inspiration of a real live encounter with a NASA astronaut can excite students’ full participation in science learning in hopes of one day embarking on a space adventure of their own.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
NASA: Astronaut Imagery
University of California at San Diego