The space agency is planning a mission to Mars in the next 20 to 30 years, but it has no system for safely landing an astronaut on the Red Planet. That situation served as the authentic problem at the heart of the One to the World Rocket Expo held at Stone Hill on November 11th and 12th in the school cafeteria.
Eighth grade science teachers Sarah DeWees, Piyasi Mukherjee, Dr. Erica Hanson and Allison Olguin collaborated with teachers in other eighth grade disciplines in designing the project. Persuasive communication from English 8, business plans from civics and technology education skills all found their way into the project. The main science standards emphasized in the unit were Newton’s Laws of speed, force and measurement.
Students constructed model rockets to transport an egg (the stand-in for our astronaut). Students enrolled in Tech Ed and Science 8 concurrently designed their own rockets. Students enrolled in Science 8 used a standard rocket kit. Students worked in teams to collaboratively design a mechanism for transporting their egg/astronaut. Rockets were launched the week before the expo, and results were documented with photos and videos.
Student teams presented posters, PowerPoints and Prezis about their landing systems at the expo. Parent volunteers served as judges to act as a proxy for NASA and determine whether to hire the student team to produce the rocket for the Mars mission.
DeWees said that participating in such an event built skills that students will need later in life, whether preparing for a high school science fair or influencing potential investors at a professional conference. As she pointed out, the astronauts eventually headed to Mars just might be presenting at the expo.