NASA’s one-year space experiment opens rich possibilities for teachers

This morning was the launch of the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft, carrying 3 astronauts. There are two Russian cosmonauts, Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, and US astronaut Scott Kelly.

They will spend one year on the International Space Station! This will be the longest stay in space. NASA 'Star Wars' Expedition 45 Poster

To mark this momentous step – a step toward a human mission to Mars –NASA released this poster.

Scott Kelly’s twin brother, Mark will be part of a long-term study by NASA. Mark is a veteran astronaut, and the husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

Given NASA’s sense of humor, I could see a lot of possibilities down the line, making science seem a lot more fun, and accessible. I am already planning a Photoshop class around this. Stay tuned!

There are plenty of Ed-Tech & STEM lessons we could build around this experiment. Such as:

Data collection. A class could monitor and collect data generated by NASA on this experiment, and generate hypotheses, charts, reports. They have already begun posting some ideas here.


Math/International Space Station report. The ‘habitable volume’ on the ISS is 13,696 cubic feet. How does that translate into cubic meters? Or in dimensions, what is its approximate size in terms of square feet?


Digital Storytelling/Video Editing. NASA has released B-roll of the ISS. I would love to get students to create a story using this footage, and some video they shoot. Perhaps do a fictional story of what they might do when (not “if”) they work for NASA!

ISS Orbit path


Plotting the orbit of ISS. I subscribe to ‘station tracker’ that send me a text message as to when the ISS passes over my city in Arizona. They could do so here, and get updates via email. Using this kind of data, students could learn not just about space, but also about compass directions, and use protractors and related math skills.

“Technology is Not The Answer”

You might be surprised to see me talk about this topic here.

I am a computer and technology advocate, but I also believe that technology is meant to serve us, not the other way around. For this reason I often make it a point to tell students that coming to a computer lab doesn’t mean that they automatically get in front of a screen.

There are alternative ways to teach technology literacy, minus the screen, and we try some of these approaches here.

But I want to point to a great thought-provoking piece titled “Technology is Not The Answer : A Student’s Perspective” that was published in Education Week in October this year.

The author, a high-school junior makes us want to pause in the “rush to expand educational technology” while inviting many distractions to students. He cites examples of where students need to develop personal relationships, and not just on-screen button-pushing skills. These games, and so-called interactive experiences attempt to reward students with ‘thumbs-up’ motivations. Much of these don’t teach the broader experience that Ed-tech is supposed to promote, he says.

Definitely worth a read. 

Sneaking Apps into the classroom

This might be the year when we deploy brand new devices and apps in the classroom.

Let me rephrase that.

This will be the year when we experiment with many ‘ed-tech’ apps in my class. 

The boundaries between a STEM curriculum, and one that lets children tinker with ‘media’ have blurred. I am lucky to have a very supportive IT and Technology Integration team, so I can see us diving into the deep end of Ed-Tech very soon.(In case you’re wondering, Ed-Tech is technology-speak for Education Technology)

Speaking of which, I ran into some amazing teachers at an conference in Atlanta this summer. “Creative teachers know how to sneak the really good stuff into their classroom,” said one teacher, who summed up for all of us what we try to make content more relevant and engaging with  zero or near zero budget.

I’m learning some of the best-kept secrets of equipping a class on the cheap. Apart from the hardware, there are the free apps such as Aurasma (pictured above), DoceriReflector, and Qrafter that I plan to introduce to my students.