P.E.T. - Thanks for a great project

From: Eileen Bendixsen <ebend@netlabs.net>
Subject: P.E.T. - Thanks for a great project
Date: Thu, 22 May 1997 21:19:33 -0400 (EDT)

I just wanted to thank Geoff, Erna and Jan for a terrific project.  My
students thoroughly enjoyed the Planet Explorer Toolkit from start to
finish.  Deciding what to put in the toolkit really brought out the best in
my students.  It was interesting to see from their viewpoint what they felt
was important and what was no big deal.  They were very willing to argue
when they felt their position was correct yet they backed up their
arguments with facts.  The debate that followed was terrific.  Taking time
to go back over previous decisions and seeing if they fit the original idea
was a great experience for the kids.  Adding the scientists' inpute at this
time was a big help and, yes, David we did have water at our site when we
collected our data. (It had rained the day before and left some big
puddles.)  Performing both the test fit and the cost analysis was another
step in getting them to evaluate what they had done.

Unfortunately the weather was not really cooperative for our data
collection.  The last day before spring break we finally had a day warm
enough to go out and collect our data.  We forgot a couple of things
weather-wise and had to redo that part after break, but the kids did a
terrific job and really enjoyed going out and collecting their data.

For the past two days my five classes have been diligently working on the
mystery sites.  It was great.  They were very noisy, but you could tell
that they were thinking through their decisions.  Today again there were
several arguments over which site to choose, but in each case they had
specific facts to back up their decision.  Many students who have been
quiet all year became very vocal.  In fact two students were so sure of
their decision they took on the rest of the class who had all chosen
another site and were still stating their position as they left the room.  

Any one part of this project would have been a great experience for my
students.  Having them work on all of the parts allowed them to see the
results of their work as well as how to interpret the data they collected.
Many times due to time constraints we never get to that last part.

This was my first year as part of Passport to Knowledge.  A year ago during
Live From the Hubble Telescope I realized how much my students were missing
by not being part of PTK and I regretted the fact that they had lost out on
a unique experience.  This year I must say I have no regrets.  Yes it took
many class hours "away from the curriculum", and there were times when it
was a lot of work putting things together so my students could participate
(I was totally exhausted after taking 5 classes out in one day for data
collection.).  The program allowed students who have seldom faced success
see that they CAN succeed.  The day that I heard one of my students, who
has struggled all year in all of his classes, say "This has been the best
week I've ever had in science" and it was only Wednesday made it all
worthwhile.  We had just finished the Incredible Egg Drop Challenge.  My
students were able to learn things that they would never have gotten from a
textbook and were able to be part of something that might not have been
part of our "curriculum" but it was definitely science at it's best.

Eileen Bendixsen
Beers Street Middle School
Hazlet, NJ

P.S.  I also want to thank Ken Edgett for helping us interpret some of the
information coming out on Mars.  I'ts nice to have a scientist's point of view.