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Waimea students pioneering space education program

Waimea students plan their survival on the moon via Orion's Path (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

Waimea eighth-graders spent last week learning how to survive on the moon with only some dirt and some pretty advanced hydrogen reduction technology.

Naui Murphy’s science class found out what it takes, thanks to a new interactive lesson called Orion’s Path, which meets national curriculum standards and makes learning fun.

The computer program teaches students what it takes to make oxygen and water for survival on the moon – directly from lunar soil they collect in rovers. There are some interesting decisions to mull and, of course, a dollop of math, too.

Will they fly to the moon on a space shuttle or another spacecraft? Can they collect enough soil to keep themselves alive? If each person needs 8 pounds of water a day, how much water would three people need for a week? If it takes 40 pounds of soil to extract 1 pound of oxygen, how much soil would you need to breath for three days? (Hint: “That’s, like, four bags of rice!”)

While the students work through the problems and quizzes, teachers can monitor each student’s progress and performance online.

“It’s exciting because these are the kids who will have the opportunity to experience this, who will see a moon settlement,” said Beth McKnight, SpaceClass program director and PISCES adviser.

About 6,000 students and their teachers have jumped into McKnight’s virtual world and taken up the challenge, but this lesson was launched in Waimea with youngsters who spend their recess in the shadow of some of the world’s most advanced astronomy facilities atop Mauna Kea.

McKnight has developed a handful of other interactive programs that lead students through lessons that might have seemed like science fiction just a generation ago. Today, she presents them simply as science.

The Orion’s Path lesson includes a web-based program featuring young hosts and astronauts engaging students in experiments actually being conducted for future space missions.

Students drive rovers, collect surface materials, and make their own oxygen and water to stay alive, even as the moon’s formation, composition, volcanoes, craters and valuable resources needed for human survival are revealed.

Science teacher Naui Murphy helps one of her students with a problem. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Murphy has about two dozen eighth-graders in a science class that is focused on energy this year. But the students were mostly keyed in on the computer screens in front of them, waiting for the next nugget of information.

Text and graphics scrolled across screens in the classroom, and even though this was the last class before lunch, the students were eager to listen and absorb.

They volunteer tidbits about the moon: it has more craters on one side; it has flat areas; it’s kind of like the Big Island; it is of a mysterious origin.

Murphy is as jazzed as her students.

“I’m firm believer in the old Hawaiian saying – you don’t learn all knowledge in one place or from one source,” she said. “I look for ways to get my students excited about solving problems and actively participating in the learning process and SpaceClass offers an approach that I believe will get more students interested in science.”

Studying space helps ease students into the broader field of science.

“The whole topic of space tends to grab most kids. Every one of them gets into it, especially with the computer lessons,” Murphy said. “We have great resources here for our kids and we need to encourage them. We do have job opportunities for them here. We are in a center of scientists and astronomers.”

At one point, Murphy asked the students what they absolutely would need on the moon.

Among the answers: oxygen, water, food, fuel (“So you can get back home again when you’re done”), sanitation and building materials for shelter. And, according to one student, you would definitely need soap.

Asked what they would bring as their one non-essential item, students were quick with ideas: a knife (“in case there are aliens”), Pizza Rolls, Spam and rice, cell phone tower (no mention of bringing the actual cell phone or who he might call), Ipod (duhhh!), bacon and, naturally, you would have to bring a parakeet.

That last one prompted a short discussion of how you might explain weightlessness to a bird and whether birds can actually fly in space.

Murphy’s students were gifted nifty black T-shirts from Orion’s Path. Although the students probably didn’t realize it, their wardrobe made more than a fashion statement.

“I heard conversations outside the classroom. The kids were asking about the T-shirts and were interested,” McKnight said. “That’s great to get them talking.”

A student learns about the moon and its atmosphere. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

John Colson, principal of Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School, was sporting one of the nifty black Orion’s Path T-shirts and was hurrying off to cook burgers as a reward for his top students.

“This is real important. It’s turning those little light switches on,” Colson said.

“On the one hand, it gives them an opportunity to see what’s out there and it takes them out of the box. It really gives them the chance to see beyond,” he said. “Lessons like this, it really expands their views and gives them additional tools for their lives. It’s great we can expose them to things like this.”

Shelby Cook, 13, said she is ‘sort of’ interested in science.

“Mu dad keeps telling me I should work for Keck telescope, but I don’t know,” she said. “My neighbor’s sister worked there and she said it wasn’t too difficult. They can teach you all the math and stuff. It sounds pretty good because they teach you all the computers and stuff. I think I would like it.”

Cook was also supposed to be evaluating the lesson, to help McKnight work out any kinks.

“It’s better to have all the video and the visual effects because you can see what’s there,” Cook said. “And the quizzes help, too. The math was a little easier than I thought.”

Classmate KaMele Sanchez, a science fiction fantasy fan, also approved.

“I really liked the labs, where you do all the stuff,” she said. “It’s kind of fun.”

The moon lesson launch in Hawaii was sponsored by Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, or PISCES, the space research and education center headquartered at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

The lesson on SpaceClass will be introduced in school districts nationwide in 2011, so Waimea students’ feedback was particularly valuable.

Funding and background information for Orion’s Path was provided by Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor to NASA for the Orion crew exploration vehicle — the nation’s next-generation spacecraft for future exploration throughout our solar system.

_ Find out more:
www.SpaceClass.org

Listening to the lesson. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

One Response to “Waimea students pioneering space education program”

  1. KaMele Sanchez says:

    I was reading this artical, that one about my school and the science program. I am a student the goes to Wiamea Middle School and I am happy with what was written. I think that the program and the scudents as well as the school were represented well and I thank you. You all do a wonderful job! Keep it up!! :P

    3> KaMele Sanchez

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