This fall in math and science classes, second graders learned about the European Space Agency’s success with the Rosetta spacecraft and its 220-pound lander, Philae, which harpooned itself to the surface of a comet in November, allowing for the first extended close examination of a comet. Designed to operate through 2015, Rosetta and Philae will make observations as the comet makes its nearest approach to the sun six months from now, at 115 million miles, still outside of the orbit of Earth.
The unit was launched with the essential question, “How can you build Philae II to successfully land on and explore a comet?” This large challenge was broken down into smaller, manageable tasks by presenting different tiers of questions. The smaller tasks were directly related to project goals and provided guidance to keep students on track. During the first phase of this challenge, each student engineer received measurements for their probe’s legs in inches that they had to convert into centimeters. Next, students used their metric measurement to match up with their engineering team.
|Mock comet reflecting different regions|
The second phase of the project was the actual building and testing of the various landers. Each team had several opportunities to test their prototype on a practice comet, based on the three known regions. Continuing conversations in both science and math classes, students encountered the same concepts in multiple ways; thus helping them develop a depth of understanding and demonstrate true knowledge transfer.
By inviting students on this mission, they became the center of the learning process. Students were empowered to make decisions and apply prior learning experiences to the culminating project, the Philae II. This mission was designed with important specific learning objectives in mind, while also accomplishing core learning objectives as well. In math class, students completed units on measurement, time, and graphing. This mission allowed boys to understand how all three topics can relate to real-world happenings. Boys needed to measure lengths, use appropriate tools strategically, classify events according to duration of time, and be precise when making calculations. They also focused on an engineering project: to build an actual comet probe and test their final project.
The class then focused on attaching sensors, using Lego kits to explore the relationships between Input Processing Output. They were then asked: How do sensors work? What can Philae’s sensors tell us about the comet? In art, students worked on building compositions using scale and overlapping of elements to show whether an object, or a person, is in the foreground, mid-ground or background. Boys communicated their learning and what they wondered about the Philea through these compositions. Their work was rich, detailed, and beautifully employed the concepts of scale and overlapping. Varying the contexts in which students encounter a given concept, and allowing opportunities for application and connections to other disciplines, help build and deepen student knowledge of scientific concepts. (4)
1 Vasquez, Jo Anne. STEM Lesson Essentials, Grades 3-8: Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2013. Print.
2 Ritchhart, Ron, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.
3, 4 “Resources | Next Generation Science Standards.” Resources | Next Generation Science Standards. Web. 31 May 2015.