Overview of Space Expedition

20Jan16

What is our place in the Universe?

How can we use space research to improve life on Earth?

With these two guiding questions in mind, the 8th grade scholars at McAuliffe Charter School embarked on a trimester-long expedition, “To Space and Back.”

The kick-off included President Kennedy’s,“We choose to go to the Moon” speech; Galileo’s drawings of the moons of Jupiter; and a mystery text, which was a transcription of the Apollo 8 astronauts seeing Earthrise from the Moon for the first time.297755main_gpn-2001-000009_full_0_0

The expedition began by looking out at the Universe from the perspective of Earth. Our students learned how humanity’s understanding of the organization and mechanics of the solar system have changed over time. In the following weeks, they studied the importance of gravity, the solar system, types of galaxies, the concept of mass vs. weight, tides, seasons and a host of other topics.

Each class Skyped with an expert on the solar system and, later, learned about Christa McAuliffe and why she is such an iconic figure that the school is named in her honor. We watched a total eclipse of the moon and spent time each week looking up at the stars in the night sky.

This was the first 8th grade expedition led by the math & science team. The bulk of the work was done in science classes with math providing support by including space-related problem-solving in class.

Service is a critical component of McAuliffe expeditions and the 2015-2016 effort was no exception. The 8th grade scholars participated in a new simulated mission and planetarium presentation at the Christa Corrigan McAuliffe Center for Integrated Science Learning at Framingham State University. They were, in effect, beta-testers and provided invaluable feedback to the university about the new programs. Irene Porro, Ph.D. Director, McAuliffe Center thanked the students, writing, “We learned a lot from what the students told us and we will be using this valuable feedback to improve the way we implement our program with many other school groups.

The next phase of the expedition changed the students’ point of view to looking back at McKellar Science Spinoffs CoverEarth from the perspective of space. NASA Spinoffs became the focus, as students teamed up and chose space technologies to study. A spinoff is technology originally developed by or for NASA that has been repurposed for use on Earth. Nearly 30 topics were available for the scholars to research and write about.  Each topic included a math connection to help the students understand how math underpins all the work NASA does.

Each team of students wrote an article about the development of their spinoff and focused on its original use in space and how it has impacted our daily lives here on Earth. The result was three editions of Spinoffs magazine. Each edition represents the work of two science classes. The students learned about their spinoffs, learned how to research and write about their topic, and how the layout and design process works in publishing.

The expedition culminates by marking the 30th anniversary of the Challenger Disaster at the annual Christa McAuliffe Remembrance Event. We celebrate our scholars’ learning about space science and technologies and showcase their high-quality work to an authentic audience at this annual celebration of learning. Keynote speaker, former astronaut Joe Tanner, worked with and helped train Christa McAuliffe.

It has been a long road from expedition kick-off to culminating event. The 2015-2016 Space Expedition has been a challenge for our 8th grade scholars but they have risen to it and have extended their knowledge of math and science. To quote President Kennedy: “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are difficult. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”

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