Science and Tech – main topic when students met Energy Secretary

SaltRiver_Robotics_ASUAs much as I prepped my robotics students for that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet someone in government, there was the stuff you couldn’t anticipate.

Such as yesterday’s meeting with Energy Sec. Ernest Moniz, who was supposed to stop by their poster for about a 30 seconds. He continued to prod them on details for about 10 minutes. “Who’s next?” he kept asking. We had lined up three speakers. Two 4th graders, and a 6th grader.

The line of questioning was about their communication with a crew on Mars (the simulated community known as the HI-SEAS project) going on. Their project, for the just concluded FLL robotics tournament had extensive detail about how to use indigenous tools and material when, say, 3D printing (something used by the current Mission crew) isn’t enough.

After that high-profile moment, the students went on to check out the science packed into the 3-storey interdisciplinary science building or ‘ISTB4′ at Arizona State University.

This included an underwater robot, a weather station, and of course the impossible-to-resist full-scale replica of the Mars Curiosity rover.

If you’ve never been to ISTB4 at Arizona State University, the newest of the Engineering faculty buildings, it’s definitely worth a visit. It also houses a meteorite gallery, bio-tech labs and other interesting models of rockets, drones etc.

It’s one of the labs we visit when I take a group of winners of the Mars Day competition.

Connecting the Dots for ‘Dot Day’

Encouraging to see such a large outpouring of ‘dot’ art from all the grades, to commemorate International Dot Day last week – Sept 15th.

Our students were part of the 1,853,749 people who took part, altogether representing 82 countries!

We decided to do something more than just put up the dots. We displayed them in a long string, across the hallways, randomly connecting each student’s self-expression. Basically we connected the dots, to create one large distributed artwork.


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. 

Mars Day –and a chance to talk to an astronaut!

This year I’m expanding Mars Day (an event I started last year) to the whole school, thanks to the Mars Space Flight Facility at ASU, and NASA.

Students can’t get enough of science. I’ve been amazed at the interest from students as early as in Kindergarten. They already know the name and the spacecraft that put the first American into orbit. Some of them have even begun giving me artistic rendering of the spaceship that will one day take a human to Mars.

I love being able to tell them that by the time they are my age, it’s most likely that a human would be walking on Mars. I liberally borrow from Buzz Aldrin’s breathtaking vision of that time (in “Mission To Mars“) where he shows us blueprints for how we would be “a two-planet species”!

John Herrington - Mars Day 2013Back on planet earth, we are lucky this year to get Commander John Herrington, the first Native American in Space, to speak to my kids via video hook up. It’s a complex set up, making sure we have a stable connection into the library where students will talk to an astronaut, while the rest of the classes watch the event on their smart boards!

If we could chat with astronauts on the space shuttle, or get a live feed from a robot on Mars, this should not be complicated.
Stay tuned!

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.