From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Marilyn Kennedy)
Subject: You were there...
Date: Sat, 17 May 1997 16:36:04 -0400
You Were There.... at our "Mission to Mars" Night This past week students, parents, and guests of three school communities joined together in first ever "Mission to Mars" Night. This special event not only celebrated our involvement with PTK "Live from Mars" project, but it also highlighted the efforts of what can happen when three county schools are drawn into collaboration through the tools of technology. After being part of the "Live from Mars" virtual conference in DC this past July and seeing the excitement that is generated when "strangers" from 50 states come together focused on a project and maintain that focus through online collaboration, I knew I had a mission. The best way to spread the word was to directly involve "interested" teachers, and invite them to join my students and me on this "out of world" venture. Prior to our "Mission to Mars" Night, the students from the three county elementary schools had been corresponding through e-mail. The collaborating schools were in three different areas in our county, and the paths of our students did not cross making our students "strangers" to each other. To personalize their peer interaction, I asked the teachers in the other two schools to divide their class into teams. Each team would be responsible for corresponding with their partner team in each of the other two schools. This made the correspondence more personal, small group to small group rather than whole class to whole class. Using our county network, teams became key pals with each other and after initial "get acquainted" sessions, I set them to work on various activities drawn from LFM Teachers' Guide and from the online "discuss-lfm" group. As I had written earlier, the students from the three schools had their first "face to face" meeting on the day of the April 24 broadcast. We began the morning with "ice-breaking activities" then we ran the teams through centers throughout the day right up to the broadcast,"Cruising between the Planets". The broadcast and following discussion was the culmination of this day's events. Our second collaborative session together focused on the building of the Mars terrain and the Mars rover. We began the morning with the making of the solar system snack, using a snack foods to represent the scale of the Solar System. The sharing of food is always good "coming together" activity. The sun was a large beach ball, about 30 inches in diameter. We scaled the rest of the Solar System with foods like candy sprinkles (Mercury) , small marshmallows (Venus) raisins (Earth) , red hots (Mars) malt balls ( Uranus), and poppy seeds (or sugar crystals) for Pluto. As students put together the planets in their Solar System snack bag, the lost any sense of shyness and joined together in an lively discussion about the relative sizes of the planets. After eating their way through the Solar System, we took the students outside and "mapped out" to scale the Solar System, using the back fields and woods. It was neat watching the students from the three schools work together on this project. The three classes seemed to blend well because they felt like they knew each other after sharing e-mail over the course of the school year with reports of their progress and strategies used to tackle different challenges. We also had shared digitized pictures of the various teams at work in their individual classrooms. That our picnic lunch, students worked on their Mars terrain, the building of the rover, and the programing of the rover. I also set up a center for the "egg drop" activity and pulled together a mini lab of computers so students could drive rovers on the various Red Rover sites. I had applied for and received funding to help us purchase the Lego Dacta kits and software for the Mac. Because of funding and lack of PC-based computer, we had to be content with being a local rover site, but perhaps in the future we can be a Mars Base. But to the kids it really didn't matter, because the real action was building their rover and making their site. At the end of this second session, there really had developed a sense of cohesiveness. One of the unexpected outcomes of this joint venture for the students was the teaching of respect and sensitivity for individual differences. One of the students from the other school was blind. I will call him Zack. As I set up each activity and center I had to rethink my approach. How could I involve Zack? What would he get out of this activity? How could he participate in each center? Zack is in our county's TAG program and he is very aggressive about his learning as I was soon to find out. Zack demanded to know what was going on, and he would not allow himself to be ignored and put in a corner. Dealing with Zack forced me to rethink each center and activity so there would be kinesthetic and auditory experiences as well as visual. Zack loved the Solar System Snack because he was able to feel the big ball (the sun) and then the smallness of the raisin (Earth) in comparison. My students were great with Zack and were quick to accommodate him. And perhaps the greatest surprise was the teaming of one of my own students, a reluctant very low achieving ADA student with Zack. My student jumped right in on the first day of Zack's arrival and took it upon himselft to became Zack's personal buddy and escort. They went from center to center together, one making sure his buddy could "see" and the other making sure that his partner "understood" and "participated". What a self-esteem builder for both! What collaboration between two very different studenta! Tuesday was our culminating Big Night out. It seemed so long ago way back in October that we planned this event and marked it on our calendars. May seemed so far away! This "Mars to Mission Night" was the celebration of the partnership and collaboration of the three schools. Teaching in a large county like ours, students and parents tend to stay in their own local county areas, so this event was unusual in and of itself, theintermingling of the three different districts of the county. There is more mingling of students on the middle and high school levels, but our elementary schools are more parochial in their school events. The students worked together to set up the centers for the invited parents and guests. Students selected their "favorite" Mars activities to demonstrate, using our PTK teachers' guide, activities suggested by you, and activities I found at NSTA. It was fun watching parents "be students" and students "be teachers" at each activity center. Students instructed their guests on making craters, helping them discover shield volcanoes and lava layering. The students as teachers modeled the Solar System with their solar system snack just as we had done with them. They had their parents conduct investigations into the possibilities of "life" on Mars. My own class had spent this last five months creating 3-D futuristic International Space Stations complete with descriptions and explanations with their essays on importance if "Space Exploration" (an idea I borrowed from Chris Rowan). Students explained various Mars Internet sites and helped their guests use pieces of space astronomy software. And the finale of our "Mission to Mars" was the students showing off their "Mars Rover Center", with their town "Sojourner"Rover and they instructed their parents on the programing of the rover over their Martian terrain. What an awesome night! I could not have been more proud of these 4th and 5th grade students as they worked together as hosts of this special celebration, enlightening the audience with their knowledge about this year's "Missions to Mars". And you, the PTK team (Geoff, Jan, Marc, Sandy, "discuss-lfm"ers, the PTK advocates, Ken Edgett, and Bonnie Bracey) were part of this celebration, because you were there as MY collaborators sharing your knowledge and resources, suggesting pieces of software, and sorting out the really cool Internet sites. You were the contributors to and virtual sponsors of this most memorable "Mission to Mars" night. One last note about the PTK being the stone thrown in the water, creating ever increasing circles of involvement throughout our community. One of my parents is a professional singer, and she was very impressed and enthused by not only our "Mission to Mars" event. but by all our activities throughout the year. She came to me during the evening and offered her time and talent to help my students to write a song about space. On Friday she arrived complete with hseet music and sound system. She began by talking to them about the song writing process. She divided the class into teams and set each group into the processof writing part of the lyrics. She helped each group with the rythmn and beat and by the morning's end, my students had written lyrics to the tune of "You make me feel so young"(Big Band Song). It was incredible!! We are been practicing each day and hope to record our song by the end of this week. Though it will be too long to share over the Internet, I will make Jan, Geoff, Marc, and Bonnie a copy!! I know I am somewhat prejudiced (like a mama hen over her chicks), but I think their song is so cool. We are also trying to put together a Kid Pix slide show to go along with this song..we shall see. Anyway, I just wanted to share the kind of energy that is created when traveling along with PTK on the "Mission to Mars" !!! Thank you all for such a fabulous year!! Marilyn K. Wall John Wayland Elementary here in the Shenandoah Valley in Bridgewater, VA