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 www.Hubblesite.org. 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

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.

NASA Teleconference about Curiosity, today

Excited to be part of  teleconference with NASA, today.

We have begun upping the ante when it comes to STEM-related work here at the school, and this series of teleconferences brings things into sharp focus, especially for me. Just a few months ago my students got to speak to an astronaut and experience a whole day of hands-on activities for Mars Day.

This event is about getting to probe the higher knowledge, of why the pursuit of Mars, and why scientists are on a race to study the topology and climate on the planet.

The rover, Curiosity has given us earthlings an instrument dashboard through which we could study the Martian surface. Not only through the advanced imagery, but by the chemical analysis.

The event is targeted at many different age groups.

Third- and fourth-graders will be challenged with figuring out why Mars is “the planet of choice” for NASA’s missions.

Fifth- to sixth-graders will look for “the similarities and differences in soil analysis” done on Earth and Mars. The conference notes say that students will (post-conference) be able to create a model of an “aeroshell” to simulate entry and descent of Curiosity.

All my students have looked at the descent pod —the so-called “powered descent” –and how the complicated landing was handled. Slowing down the descent of a one ton robot from 180 miles per hour to a mere 1.7 miles per hour, using the sky crane, above, was one of those feats that blew their minds, and made astronomy so exciting.

What’s New On Mars? We’ll Find Out On “Mars Day 2013”

Plans are in place for the annual event we started last year – Mars Day.

This is one way to get students all fired up about astronomy, and the science of discovering what’s out there in space.

My students, which means from K through 6th grade (27 classes in all) have been showing tremendous interest in science. Since I started out by incorporating robotics and space into my computer class, the Mars connection seem to fit like a glove. After all, rocket launches, monitoring and navigating spacecraft, and even peering into space via satellites and the Hubble telescope, is nothing without a small army of computer-savvy people behind this.

Mars Day is sort of like peeling back the curtain of humankind’s fascination with the red planet, and helping students make the connection between why they have a computer lab. It is convenient, as I have said before, that the Curiosity Rover, which is one of the most complex robots ever built, is essentially a computer and a science lab on wheels.

So Mars Day is like Science Day, with an extra-terrestrial tilt.

Also appearing at this year’s Mars Day is Commander John Herrington. You may have heard of him in passing. He was the first Native American Astronaut in space!

For my kids on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation, this is a huge opportunity. 

Chatting with NASA last week – video-link

NASA_VideoHere’s the link to the video conference with NASA on 21 Feb., 2013.

This was in collaboration with the Digital Learning Network, and Salt River High School.

In case you wondered, DNL is not just a one-off activity at NASA. It backs a well integrated STEM-based program, bringing in its heavyweight research and launch facilities: Jet Propulsion Lab, Johnson Space Center, Ames, Dryden– and Glenn Flight Research Center and Goddard Space Flight Center.

To watch the video, click on image or use this link.

My students talk to NASA’s Mission Control, today

It’s one of those rare events. A classroom of students get to talk to Mission Control in Houston.

This is one of the many NASA programs we are lucky to be involved in.

Just last November, my technology class got to talk to one of the few Native Americans working at NASA, about a humanoid robot known as Robonaut.

Today’s one-hour event is divided into a 30-minute class-like session, and the  next 30-minutes will be a video-conference with scientists at Mission Control. They tell us there is a strong possibility the students may be patched into the International Space Station, and talk to an astronaut on board!

That segment will be broadcast live on NASA TV. Also:

  • Direct TV in the U.S.A : Channel 346 from 10:30-11:00 AM (ISS Control Mission)
  •  NASA Television’s Public (101) and Media (103) NASA TV’s Media Channel (channel 103) provides mission control
  •  NASA on DISH TV Channel 212 in the U.S.A from 10:30-11:00 AM (ISS Control Mission)
  •  NASA on COMCAST, USA Channel 271 ?