Blast Off into Space...Science!
Studying our solar system is important for us living here on Earth. For instance, activity on the Sun's surface creates a type of weather called space weather. Even though the sun is 93 million miles from Earth, space weather can affect Earth and the rest of the solar system. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was started in the United States in 1958. Since then, they have worked hard to make discoveries and understand more about our own Planet Earth. When I was a child, my grandmother worked for NASA in Houston, Texas. She always told us stories, gave us stickers and had photos of the astronauts hanging on her wall. My love for NASA came from her. I learned at an early age the importance of NASA and the work they do.
I was recently asked to visit Central Hinds Academy in Raymond, Mississippi to make a presentation on our solar system. Mrs. Arthur, the 6th grade science teacher, was in the process of preparing them for a trip to Huntsville, Alabama for Space Camp in March. I knew they had been studying the solar system in great detail for their trip, so I was somewhat nervous about speaking to them. I had one week before my presentation, so the first thing I did was reach out to NASA for help. First of all, NASA's website holds a tremendous wealth of information! After looking around, I found a contact phone number and reached out to them on Friday afternoon leaving a voice mail telling of my upcoming presentation the following Friday. When I got to work Monday morning, I had an email from Charity with the Office of STEM Engagement for NASA who went above and beyond in helping me. I explained to her that I would be talking about the solar system and wanted to also discuss the importance of rockets because I was going to launch bottle rockets with them as an activity. I also mentioned that I have seen their booths at some Science Teacher Conventions and asked if they could send me some stickers for the students. Right away, Charity started sending links via email and told me she was putting a packet in the mail for me that day. I received two packages from her on Thursday that blew me away! She had included stickers, tattoos, information sheets on rockets and the Space Launch System, plus a full color set of photos of our solar system. I felt like a kid again!
Thanks to Charity and NASA's Office of STEM Engagement, as well as Mrs. Arthur's preparation with her class, the students were very excited, enjoyed learning and asking questions, and they proved to be very knowledgeable about our solar system. The full color set of solar system photos was a big hit and allowed the students to see detailed photos of each planet, as well as the sun. The Space Launch System information sheets were also great thanks to the illustrations and labeling of all the parts of a space rocket which lead to discussion about rockets and the importance of sending them into space for research. We also discussed the four main parts of a rocket which lead into our classroom activity: Soda Straw Rockets. The students each made their own paper rocket and then took turns shooting them at targets drawn on the whiteboard (safety glasses were used to prevent eye injuries). Click here to find NASA's Soda Straw Rockets Classroom Activity. This activity was fun, easy to do, and the students really seemed to enjoy it.
Everything we did in the classroom lead up to the big surprise of going outside and shooting the water bottle rocket. Using the Eisco Bottle Rocket Launching Platform, we were able to launch bottles high in the air using water as the liquid fuel and pressurizing the bottle with a bicycle pump. The students each got to take turns in helping launch the bottle rockets. Using different levels of water in the bottles, we were able to see how it affected the launch. This was a lot of fun and rather inexpensive for them to enjoy.
Whether you are able to take your students to Space Camp or not, studying our solar system allows students to understand so much more about our own planet Earth and why it is so important to know as much as we can. There are many activities on NASA's website that can be used along with the information found there to support most any space lesson you will teach. To see for yourself, here is a link to their STEM Engagement website. There is a section for Educators and a section for Students which are broken down by grade levels. I was overwhelmed with the help I received from Charity, and I know they are ready to help anyone who reaches out to them. Here is a link to their Contact page.