PLEASE NOTE: This program is no longer active and has been archived in SSEC Research History as of 2/23/18: More info

The Office of Space Science Education (OSSE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is conducting a three week workshop for middle school students as part of the Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE).  The workshop venue is the Space Place, located at 1605 South Park Street in Madison.  This year there are twelve students enrolled in the workshop from Velma Hamilton, James Wright, Blackhawk and Cherokee Middle Schools of the Madison Metropolitan School District.  The Instructors are Dr. Sanjay S. Limaye and Rosalyn A. Pertzborn (Office of Space Science Education), and Dr. Jim Lattis and Kay Kriewald.

Over a three week period the students will apply their math, science, communication and creative talents to design several missions to explore the solar system.  Each team of budding young space explorers will design a terrain to replicate their targeted solar system body, build a launch vehicle (rocket), design and program a rover to navigate and explore their selected terrain, create a habitat to live in their newly formed colony, and of course develop a news brief to keep those of us back on earth informed about their adventures!

We're pleased to present a group photograph of America's future astronauts, scientists and engineers with  one of their teachers in front of the full scale replica of the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO-2) on display at the Space Place.

In this workshop the students learn about our solar system environment and get a chance to apply their math, hone their communication skills, demonstrate their graphic abilities, experience team work, explore some hands-on activities and have fun.  Each day, we try to incorporate some applications of mathematics and expect the students to write about a page to report the day's activities in which they have participated.   Here is what they have done to date.

Week One - Space Exploration: What, Why and How?

Monday, 5 June 2000
Introductions.  Discussion of the telescopes at Space Place.  Tried to get a grasp of the distances in the solar system using a hands-on approach using a 100 ft. rope, with Sun at one end and Pluto at the other.  Students positioned themselves as a planet at locations along the rope where they thought they should be located.  They then made a linear graph of the planet locations along the rope.

Tuesday, 6 June 2000
Learned a few concepts: what is speed, what do we mean by a "day".  Measured the speed of students walking or running by using a hand held Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver.  Discussed parallax, stereo vision and how the human eye determines the relative size of objects.  Used the telescope to observe the sun with projection and also through a solar filter.  The students wondered what the dark markings on the image were ("dust", rocks, craters, holes), and sketched the solar spots on a sheet of paper, to compare with a view the following day.

PICTURES  See students observing the sun and tracing the sun spots with Dr. Jim Lattis

Wednesday, 7 June 2000
Another clear, beautiful day, so students observed the sun again through the telescope by projecting the image as done on the previous day, and sketched the spots once again.  They discovered that the spots were in a different location!  Watched the Asteroid video describing the events that take place when an asteroid hits the earth, featuring Dr. Gene Shoemaker. Their task for the workshop is to explore other worlds as possible places to live on, should a catastrophe doom our planet.  What kind of other worlds are available?  What types of landscapes will they encounter?  What would they need to survive?  Reviewed the parallax concept and looked at the stereo panorama of the surface of Mars taken by the Mars Pathfinder through red and blue glasses.

Thursday, 8 June 2000
Craters!   Students made their own craters in sand and flour using marbles dropped from different heights.  Discussed the properties of a circle, relationship between radius and the circumference (which demonstrated the confusion between what the relationship actually is, most said that circumference is radius times "pi").  During this time, a news bulletin (courtesy of  the movie Deep Impact) featuring the President (Morgan Freeman) indicated that an "comet" was headed towards the earth, and hence the students needed to locate a new home in the solar system.  They considered what they would need to look for in searching for a new home.  Used "Clear SKies". Welcome to the Planets and the Venus Explorer CDs to explore and find the information.

PICTURES Showing students making craters by using marbles as impactors in a pan containing flour, writing daily journals, and researching information about the planets on the computers.

Friday, June 9
Key Kriewald, guest instructor, worked with students to demonstrate the principles behind rockets, essential for space flight. They watched a short video that explained  Newton's Laws of motion demonstrated by astronauts on the space shuttle.  Using a balloon, an eraser-head pencil, a flexible plastic drinking straw, some electrical tape and a pin, they explored Newton's First Law to make the balloon-at-the-end-of the-straw spin around the axle (pin) pushed through the straw into the eraser end of the pencil. Then they used some household "rocket fuel" (Alka seltzer tablets and water) to make film-canister rockets to see who could "pop" the lid of the canister farthest in the parking lot. LeMarcus and Antoine hold the current record distances for their Alka seltzer rockets of 42' and 38' respectively.  As always, the SPACE-PEOPLE had fun and made entries in their daily journal.

PICTURES - Making Pencil Rockets
PICTURES - Making Seltzer Rockets

Week Two - Creating a New Habitat

Monday, June 12
The students broke up into four groups.  Each group discussed potential solar system objects to explore.  After selecting a target, they embarked on the task of creating a new habitat on their chosen world.  Each student wrote a mission statement and described the jobs s/he would like to do.  Using 2' x 4' sheets of quarter inch thick plywood and 1" x 4" furring strips they created frames for building their landscapes.  At the end of the morning, they wrote in their mission log. 

PICTURES - Constructing New Worlds
  Construction begins on frames for the landscapes

Tuesday, June 13
Construction of the "New Worlds" continues as the students hone their carpentry skills.  For the math activity, they investigated the concept of Pi(e) - exploring the relationship between the circumference and the diameter and recognizing that the ratio of the two is constant, regardless of the size of the circle.  They used an "Apple Pi(e)" and a "Cherry Pi(e)" for the exercise along with other objects with circular cross-section. 

The frames are complete and the four groups sketched out what features their planetary landscape will have.  The group received a visit by a student journalist from the Journalism Workshop.

PICTURES - Constructing New Worlds (cont.)

Wednesday, June 14
The students began to fill in the "surface features" of their terrains using such varied materials as construction paper, styrofoam packing peanuts, newspaper, plastic containers, dry wall joint tape and dry wall joint compound.  Numerous "volcanoes," craters, valleys and canyons were created on the 4' x 4' terrain platforms as students experimented with the various construction materials.  The "Alpha Squadron" and the "Quick Silver" teams were able to arrive at a consensus very quickly regarding how they wanted their terrains to appear.  The remaining teams were  still negotiating the details of how the surface should appear, how the materials should be used to create the features, and what kinds of habitats should be included.  The pi(e) exercise from the previous day was followed up by finding out how far Sergio would need to walk towards Joey, if he stood diametrically across from on circle made with the 100' rope.  The objective is to figure out what the diameter of that circle should be, an application of the math knowledge they have acquired.

PICTURES - Constructing New Worlds (cont.)

Thursday, June 15
Students continued to mold and modify the surface features of their terrains.  By snack time everyone was ready to take the frames out in the sun to "bake" (dry).  Jim Lattis brought out the telescope for students to observe any changes in the sun spots they first observed last week (this was the first day since last Wednesday that we were able to do this because of rain/cloud cover).  After writing down their observations of the sun, the students watched a movie on the geological processes that carve out various land features on the earth's surface such as glaciers, catastrophic flooding, etc.  They compared the appearance of the Coulee Dam area near Great Falls, Montana to images of the surface of Mars for similar features that might suggest catastrophic flooding.

PICTURES - Constructing New Worlds (cont.)

Friday, June 16
Today students painted and detailed the surface of the terrains.  Two of the teams created "imaginary" planets and two of the teams selected Mars as their final destination.  After applying the final touches of paint, several of the teams added "boulders" to their terrains using landscaping rocks.  While the terrains dried each team began work on their rovers.  Students took home their folders/notebooks for the weekend to share their work with their families.  They'll begin work on their final reports next week.

PICTURES - Constructing New Worlds (cont.)

Week Three - Getting to the New World and Exploring It

Monday, June 19
The vehicles that the teams will utilize to explore the landscapes they constructed are being constructed using the LEGO Mindstorms kits.  There are four teams (Quick Silver, Alpha Squadron) and each team has one complete kit.  The Mindstorms kits contain a LEGO RCX computer and assorted Lego parts to build rovers such as wheels, gears, tires, tiles, etc.  In addition, it also includes electric motors, optical (light detection) and mechanical sensors (touch, rotation) and beepers that can be connected to the RCX computer (LEGO RCX "Brick") by short cables to receive power and to submit sensor input.  The RCX computer can be programmed with simple functional commands (e.g.  Power on for a certain time interval, Set Direction of motors, Poll the Sensors, Beeps, Wait and Power Off).  The sequence of commands to be executed is written as a "Program" on a desktop computer using a simple, "drag and drop" method to arrange the commands in a desired sequence.  This program is then transferred to the RCX using an infrared transmitter. After a successful transmission, the RCX is ready to execute the commands programmed.  This is a very creating way for the user to learn how to achieve a desired action and encourages critical thinking at every stage.

Since the objective is to explore the landscapes (built within a 4' x 4' frame), the students need to figure out how fast the rover moves.  This brings up the application of the math skills stressed previous week as well as the "pi".  The problem the students tackled was to figure out the distance moved by the vehicle when the wheels complete one turn.  They discovered that if they measure the diameter, they can calculate the circumference!  As an application of statistics, they learned to compute the average of their individual measurements, touched upon briefly the previous week in measuring the diameter of the circle they made with the rope along several diametric directions.

PICTURES - Building the computer controlled vehicles to explore the new world


Tuesday, June 20
Taming the robot vehicles with computer commands was the challenge the students tackled today.  The learned to examine how the rover reacts to the commands and how precise the

- Building the computer controlled vehicles (cont.)

Wednesday, June 21
Each student got an opportunity to learn to program the rover today.  With only two days left, there was an urgency to build the launch vehicles that will "take" them in an imaginative leap to their new worlds today.  Each one got a rocket kit to build the launch vehicle, complete with a parachute.  In lieu of Nathalie, Kim helped out with the instruction today.  After gluing the pieces together, the re-usable launch vehicles could be seen taking shape quickly.  Weather permitting, the "Launch Event" will take place at Quann Park tomorrow morning.  At the end of the day, we were T-20 hours and counting!

- Getting there (building rockets) and exploring the new world

Thursday, June 22 - Launch Day!
Today the students finished the construction of the rockets and went to the launch site at Quann Park, after receiving safety and launch instructions.  At Quann Park they formed  a rocket recovery team, and then prepared their rockets for launch by preparing the wadding and the parachute, inserting the fuse into the motor, inserting the motor into the rocket fuselage and then transporting the rocket to the launch pad and preparing for ignition.  After a launch countdown initiated by inserting the launch safety key into the ignition switch, the team fired off their rockets in alphabetical sequence.  All fired successfully, reached a height of approximately 700-800 feet, and the rockets came down between 12 and 19 seconds later on the parachute.  One chute did not deploy properly.  All in all, a high success ratio for the budding rocket scientsts!

- Blast off! Charting New Territory

Friday, June 23 - The End.
Thanks to the hard work of Walter Lane, Joanne Faust, the PEOPLE staff, especially Kimberly, the SPACE Exploration Workshop was a success.  Thanks also to Jim Lattis and Kay Kriewald for donating their time and extensive access to  the Space Place facilities and resources.  It is a pleasure to acknowledge their dedicated support.

Alicia  worked on the rover her group built to see if she could make it go over the "boulders" on their terrain by adding two more motors. Sergio, Marcus and Joey presented a summary of the workshop at the Luncheon at Lowell Center for the participants' parents.

PICTURES from the last day

Here are some related links:
Program Coordinator: Rosalyn Pertzborn