Field trips bring science to life

It’s hard to beat a field trip when it comes to showing students how science work in the real world. That world is often not too far from our class rooms. Two weeks ago I took some students to three mind-blowing science labs at Arizona State University.

Opportunity Wheel

Mars Rover – “Opportunity”

First Stop: The Mars Space Facility, a home of the Mars rover. We nudge closer to the model of the rover, Opportunity. The  students ask about those cameras, and solar panels.  They got to hear about what scientists such as Dr. Phil Christensen who work with JPL, see: raw images streaming in, some barely a  week old. They also see that titanium wheel, in context.

Mars Rover Curiosity - ASU - School of Earth and Space Exploration

Mars Rover – “Curiosity”

Next Stop: ISTB4, the building that’s home to the only full-scale model of NASA’s Curiosity, roughly the size of an SUV. It’s got more cameras and probes than you could shake a stick at.  My students have heard a lot about these rovers, during Mars Day. So this is a big deal! The nearest thing to kicking the tires of space science.


Third Stop: Decision Theater, a scientific visualization lab with floor-to-ceiling screens that render images in 3D. Indeed, urban planning and crisis mapping maybe a bit too heavy for third- fourth- and fifth-graders (esp at the end of a tour), but the students found the 3D model of the human brain (navigating through it, using a game controller!) mind-blowing.

I’m a big believer in field trips. Each year I take my robotics students to visit an organization that either uses robots, or is immersed in engineering that is directly or indirectly connected to the work they do in building and programming devices.

Huge thanks to Sheri Klug-Boonstra, Anthony Zippay and Cynde Garrett for making this happen!


Hands-on With the Mars Rover

Stopped by the Mars Space Flight Facility at ASU this morning to pick up a cardboard box that has some exciting contents.

Nicely bubble-wrapped inside is a wheel of the Mars Opportunity rover. My students have been watching the landing, and discussing the mechanical parts of the latest rover, Curiosity, that’s moving around on the red planet, right now.

But to give them a sense of history and perspective –my robotics class from last year knows this–I compare the dimensions of Opportunity (and its twin, Spirit, that have been hanging out on Mars since 2007), to Curiosity. A wheel is a great way to size up something, isn’t it? Take a look at the comparison in the photo from JPL. The guys in the white ab coats are there for a reason, to give us a sense of proportion.

L to R: Mars Opportunity, Sojourner, Curiosity

Also, more to the point, ASU loaned me the wheel for an upcoming event I am putting together for my 4th, 4th and 6th grade classes. It will be called MARS DAY. It will involve a build up over the next few weeks; the librarian, Mary Chabot, and I have Mars- and space-related material in our lesson plans. Also to be announced, a poster competition, and perhaps one more exciting component.

Stay tuned. The wheels are in motion; pun intended.