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To Mars with MER - Educators

Teacher Tips

One of the most useful and exciting aspects of each P2K project is the way in which the Internet allows teachers to share ideas with other teachers--even those geographically remote from each other, who would likely never meet in person. This section of the website pulls together comments from educators. Many of them appeared first in DISCUSS-MARS, but some of them were specially prepared for... TEACHER TIPS!

Eileen Bendixsen, 7th grade integrated science, Hazlet Middle School, Hazlet, NJ

I begin class with a discussion on some of the topics that will be covered during the broadcast. (UPDATES carries a preview of the content and sequences a few days in advance: this gives me, as a teacher, a heads-up even if I'm watching live.) This helps get students thinking about questions and also gives them enough information to ask questions.

We also discuss what type of question you would ask a scientist. I give them examples which can be drawn from previous projects, or RESEARCHER Q&A, and discuss the different tips for asking a good question.

Each student is given an index card. I give them about ten minutes to write down a question. They can brainstorm with other students at their lab table and often lab partners will submit a question together.

After they have written their questions we brainstorm as a class. I have volunteers read their questions and we discuss them. Instead of rejecting questions, or saying that isn't a "good" question, we brainstorm together to rewrite them into one that would be acceptable to use.

I collect all the index cards--make sure names are on all the cards. On the day of the broadcast I flip through the cards to locate the best questions to submit based on how the program is going, and the other questions coming in from around the nation. I also will submit questions from students who could use that special honor and motivation of having a scientist answer their question. Having the questions on the cards makes it easier to submit my questions in a short period of time.

The day after the broadcast, I read the questions that were submitted and the answers to each of my classes. The students whose questions were submitted are given a copy of the message to keep. The students include their e-mail messages in their WEATHERLogs and sometimes I give extra credit points on their project grade.

I usually dedicate a class period to do this. I feel the process of writing a good question is equally as important as the factual content of the answers. We put together our questions during the week before the broadcast and I continue to accept additional questions up to the day of the broadcast.

During LIVE FROM THE RAINFOREST my students researched a plant or animal in the rainforest for their "A Day in the Life..." reports. Many of them still had questions they were not able to answer during their research. They were thrilled to be able to submit these questions and receive answers from scientists at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC!

What makes ON-AIR motivational?
Eileen Bendixsen and teacher participants in previous PTK projects

There have been many messages posted to the various DISCUSS lists and sent privately about the reactions of students to receiving an answer to their ON-AIR question from a scientist. There was the quiet student in the class who had little success all year and the beatific smile on her face when she received a response to her question. Or the difficult, unmotivated class that came alive during this interaction with scientists.

These are just a few of the comments we've received about student reactions to participating in ON-AIR:

My students nearly fell out of their chairs when S___'s question got answered online. This was a really neat experience for this girl, as school hasn't always been the best experience for her. Today the county music teacher came up to me and told me he had watched it from home and was amazed to hear that a student from our county had a question answered by a scientist. It really brings the learning experience home. Please also thank the scientists for answering the student's questions on-line.

I think that this is one of the key elements to the program--access to scientists that will work to help students find the answers to their questions. We discuss the questions and answers in class. One of the responses from Mr. Ireland was that they don't yet have the answer yet but with the help of SOHO, hope to discover the answer. I really appreciated the discussion that followed in my class about the "process" of discovery that is so important in science. I want my students to feel free to experience and experiment with science and to not expect every answer to be found in a text.

It was also neat for the students to "see" the scientist that they had read about in the LIVE FROM THE SUN Website. Each student was required to read about, write about and share information about one scientist. They were very pleased that "their scientist" was part of the broadcast.
Ginny Dexter,
Hydesville School, Hydesville, CA

The broadcast yesterday was excellent. The children were impressed that their questions were answered so promptly. We are turning our room into a rainforest, researching animals, listening to tapes of rain forest sounds... Thanks for all the hard work!!!
Amanda Buice,
Lamar Co. Elementary

I loved this new format of submitting ON-AIR questions. My kids were excited to see responses so quick. They really felt connected to the scientists at the Smithsonian.
Marilyn Kennedy Wall,
Wayland Elementary, Bridgewater, VA

Tim McCollum, 8th grade science, Charleston Middle School, Charleston, IL

Ever since astronomy became part of our middle school science curriculum I've attempted to conduct star parties with my students. It seemed as natural as maintaining live plants and animals in a life science classroom or making actual outdoor weather measurements while studying meteorology. Ironically, many teachers cover astronomy related topics without ever considering such an enjoyable event. Fortunately, I live across the street from a city park which is easy for parents to find, provides lots of parking, has a pavilion for refreshments, yet is far enough from bright city lights to offer fair viewing opportunities. This is where I conduct our annual star party. Suggestions:

1. Dittos to Roger Stryker who suggested an 8" telescope. We conducted our event for many years with two 4" refractors set on Jupiter and/or Saturn. I always had 7-8 binoculars to share with the students and encouraged them tobring their own from home. I recently purchased an 8" Meade Dobsonian Starfinder Series scope ( about $500, also with grant funding ) and its performance is outstanding. However, most of the viewing we do is with the naked eye and/or binoculars. We have a special mount for a 10 x 50 pair which attaches to a tripod and allows the binoculars to be adjusted to different heights while keeping the viewing target in focus - great for those tall 8th grade girls and short 8th grade boys. To protect the students from tripping over the scopes in the dark, hang a glow (light) stick from each telescope. These can be found in the outdoor camping department of your local Wal-Mart, sporting goods store or hardware store.

2. Have the students build star finders in class to bring to the party. We always practice using these in advance as they can be difficult at first for the kids. They should also bring flashlights for reading the starfinders but should tape red plastic over the lens to protect their night vision. Suggest blankets, too.

3. I borrow a bull horn from the P.E. teacher to use when "walking" the kids across the sky. The neighbors get the lesson, too....whether they want to or not...ha, ha.

4. Refreshments are nice. Get parent volunteers to help in this area so astro free you to work with the kids and the scopes.

5. Invite parents, other staff, board members....super P.R. Most have never looked through a telescope and they are usually as excited as the kids.

6. Plan ahead so as not to conflict with any other school function. I usually schedule it from 9 to 10 pm.

7. We use the "homework hotline" which works great if the sky turns cloudy and you need to cancel the event. Sure beats having 100 kids call your house!

8. Keep it simple. Don't try to wow them with difficult to see objects or you'll quickly lose your audience. Save the best to last.

9. I usually spend 15-20 minutes "walking" them across the sky through several major ( easy to see ) constellations, the Pleiades, the galaxy Andromeda and then challenge them to find others using their starfinders. We eventually move to the scopes and save Saturn to the end - it's the grand finale!

10. Check the lunar cycle and pick a night near a new moon. Light from a near full moon will wash out many of your best viewing targets.

   A well planned star party and cooperating weather can combine to be the highlight of the year for your science students. Please feel free to e-mail back with any questions. Happy to help :)

Roger Stryker, 5th grade teacher, Williams Elementary School, Austin, TX

The only thing I could think of to add to your detailed star party outline is a good, focused flashlight that would allow pointing out constellations and celestial objects - works like a miniature search light. I've also had turn up at school a consumer model, keychain laser light (I took it up from a student and really wanted to keep it:-). Maybe this would work even better, I don't know - I can't justify buying one to try it out.

For those who haven't already bookmarked this site:

Lots of goodies, including calculating relative planet distances and weight on different planets, and an impressive piece on sunspots - with sound and film clips!