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
Program for Learning
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!
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.
One - Space Exploration: What, Why and How?
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.
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.
See students observing the sun and tracing the sun spots with Dr.
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.
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
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.
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.
- Making Pencil Rockets
- Making Seltzer Rockets
Two - Creating a New Habitat
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
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
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.)
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.
- Constructing New Worlds (cont.)
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.)
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.)
Three - Getting to the New World and Exploring It
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
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.
- Building the computer controlled vehicles to explore the new
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
PICTURES - Building the computer controlled vehicles (cont.)
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!
PICTURES - Getting there (building rockets) and exploring
the new world
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!
PICTURES - Blast off!
Charting New Territory
June 23 - The End.
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.
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
are some related links: