So kids aren’t playing with rubber bands and string anymore?

True story: Recently I took a small group of students to visit a lab, and while breaking for lunch on some garden benches, they began climbing the trees nearby. They were getting a bit noisy when a lady walking by stopped and looked up into the branches. I thought I would get asked to get them to ‘behave’. But the lady smiled and said loudly to others passing by, “Look! look! children are playing on trees again!”

It took me a few seconds to figure out what she was really saying – that having seen so many kids today plugged into screens, it’s thrilling to see them having fun scampering up trees. (Side note: this was outside a Mars Space lab in Tempe, Arizona, and we were on a field trip to see a whole lot of technology!)

Drawing from : 7th period: Feed a Fish Wikispaces page Click on image to visit this class project page

I keep this in mind when I introduce students to new technologies. Last week, I began a lesson on animation, and as subject matter, I returned to the ‘Rube Goldberg Machine.’ We don’t always need screens for this. (Unless we need to check out the many Rube Goldberg contests like this.). How could we turn students into makers, and innovators, problem-solvers and scientific thinkers?

A Rube Goldberg Machine (or ‘contraption‘) teaches us a lot about levers, gravity, kinetic energy, and chain reactions among other things – such as precision, iterative design, and learning from failure. All it takes is some lengths of wood, string, paper cups, shoe boxes, old clothes hangers, marbles and/or ping-pong balls, rubber bands and cardboard tubes.

I like to get them to ‘design’ their machine first, and see what they come up with – then set them on a building mission! We could use a drawing app, but paper and pencil work just fine!

Image on right – One of the manyprojects from a 7th grade class – found here


Tomatoes on Mars. Peas on Earth

Ok, bad pun! But growing produce on Mars is quite a work in progress, by the folks at MarsOne. Tomatoes, especially.

Despite the Matt Damon agro project, growing food is not going to be easy, from accounts I have read. I know of a teacher who is germinating plants on moon-like soil.

In this blog post by Natasha Schön, she talks about biomass measurements, and the first tomato that grew in martian-simulated soil. Schön explain the need for more work on this:

One of the follow up experiments will be to investigate if the produced seeds are viable. It would only make sense to cultivate crops on Mars or the Moon if the follow up experiments are a success and the seeds are able to form new plants. If the seeds are not viable, a constant stream of new seeds would have to be flown in, making Mars farmers highly dependent on seed deliveries from Earth. 

And yes, they also tried growing peas.

And to justify the bad pun (in the title of this post), there is a children’s book titled “Peas on Earth.”

I believe it has a sustainability angle!

Lessons From Hubble

It is the 25th birthday day of Hubble Telescope.

In case you missed it, last Friday, April 24th was the day NASA sent up a giant piece of technology that looked like a tin can, but with an amazing lens.

Hubble orbits some 347 miles above the earth, and travels at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour! Think of it as a high-speed camera that could probe the universe, and provide us with images and ‘events’ going on in deep space. Like this one.

This one is called ‘Eagle Nebula’

To teachers, this opens up a vast library. Take the official Hubble website Among other things, teachers could:

And much, much more.


Truth or Photoshop? Students Tweak TIME Cover

This year too my Photoshop class that has attracted a high level of interest – and questions.

I teach this to 6th graders, and not many of them realize the importance of scrutinizing and decoding the media they come into contact with – billboards, newspapers, Facebook posts, album covers, and celebrity photos etc.

Borrowing on the interest from the NASA study using twins Scott and Mark Kelly, I asked them to consider the conspiracy theories about space. Starting with the old, ‘we faked the moon landing’ theory (now with a lot more discussion about that pre-Internet event).

And then I got them to see if a head shot of an astronaut bound for the Space Station could be Photoshopped.

We have a great candidate for this, in-house: 6th grade teacher David Krebs, who was up to it.

I took a quick mug shot of him (in yellow T-shirt) as his class was exiting the Lab. The students are asked to try to replace Scott Kelly with  David Krebs, using filters and cropping tools.

The best part is that not only are they learning about the issues — the ethics of image manipulation, bias in media, why there are lines media people should not cross when editing photos etc –while learning how to use Photoshop.They are also learning some bigger issues about space science, and what the NASA study is all about.

It nicely sets the stage for possible activities and lessons around Mars Day in the new school year

Mars Day Program – Permanent Home on Salt River Website

Proud to see that we have a permanent home now for some of our major programs on our Salt River Elementary School website. There is the STEM program, which takes many shapes and forms, filtering into robotics, for instance.

The page title says something about what it’s all about: Next Stop, Mars!

But since we have a few year’s worth of Mars Day activities behind us. I got together with Lori Diab, and she created this marvelous space on our site. (The video works on the Firefox browser, but not on Chrome or Explorer for some reason. We are working on that end!)

It contains:

  • Links to past activities
  • Scientists who have been involved
  • Winners of competitions
  • Organizations supporting Mars Day
  • Media reports

Kody Ensley, at Johnson Space Center, who spoke to our students in 2012. Seen here working on Robonaut-2.

Mars Crew’s ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’

The things you can do on ‘Mars’ now includes 3D printing, and video editing.

I’m talking about a simulated Mars Mission – the crew I have been in touch with for a project.

Sure they live on rations, since this is an 8-month stay in an isolated dome. But Zak Wilson even printed a star for their Christmas tree. Impressive with the video editing, too!

In case you are interested, this NASA-sponsored mission, known as the HI-SEAS Mission, is an 8-month research project to “determine what is required to keep a space flight crew happy and healthy during an extended mission to Mars.”

Related to this, is a very real NASA experiment to study the effects of someone living in space for one year, while comparing him to his identical twin, back on earth. This involves astronauts, Mark and Scott Kelley. The story broke this week in TIME magazine.

Mars Day 2014 – Video

Thanks to the support from SRPMIV-TV, we had coverage from Mars Day 2014 that took place on October 29th at Salt River Elementary School.

This is the third year we have had this event, which has become a fixture on our school calendar. (Check out last year’s event!)

Once again, thank you to:

  • Mars Space Flight Facility
  • ASU: Professor Jack Farmer, Sheri Klug-Boonstra, Anthony Zippay, Leon Manfredi
  • Conrad Storad
  • HI-SEAS Mission 3 Crew: Martha Lenio, Allen Mirkadyrov, Sophie MilamNeil Scheibelhut, Jocelyn DunnZak Wilson
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • School of Earth and Space Exploration, ASU