You were there...

From: (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

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