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TeachNet NYC  |  Lesson Plans  |  Teachnet

Student Experiment Flies On NASA Space Shuttle!

Project URL:

How it works:
Listservs for science teachers often provide great leads to exciting projects. One of these lists provided information about NASA's outreach to New York City schools after the tragedy of September 11th. NASA was encouraging schools to apply to send a student scientific experiment into space aboard a space shuttle. They have been including student experiments on the shuttle for a number of years as part of a program called SEM (Space Experiments Module). The Mott Hall-CCNY STARS (Student Apprenticeships In Research) students, recognized that this was a life-affirming, confidence-building opportunity, and, after several months of hard work, they produced a creative and rigorous experiment. The experiment measures the ability of various natural and synthetic fabrics to absorb high-energy radiation that is encountered in the shuttle's low earth orbit.

The use of technology was an integral part of the success in this program. Almost all communications with NASA were carried on via e-mail. Through a video conference with NASA SEM personnel, the students and teacher received help in the planning stage. The experiment required the procurement of small device--called dosimeters--for measuring radiation exposure, as well as samples of many kinds of fabrics to wrap around the dosimeters. Through extensive web searches and pleading e-mails,  two generous mentors were located: a dosimetry scientist and a materials chemical engineer who
provided the needed materials and also wonderful advice via the Internet, without ever having met us. All the extensive data recording dosimeter numbers, fabric samples, thickness, and density were all recorded into a Microsoft Excel worksheet. This information will be used to analyze data when the experiment is returned after the shuttle flight. After the NASA SEM team traveled to New York to help pack up the experiment and send it to Cape Kennedy, they provided digital pictures, via the Internet, of the process of integrating the experiment into the SEM module and then into the Space Shuttle experimental bridge.

Standards addressed:  

This is an integrated studies activity that fulfills standards of science inquiry, science as a human activity, the use of technology, and many physics and engineering concepts.
Materials used:
Materials include computers with Internet access for the video conferences, the experimental materials of fabrics and dosimeters, a digital camera, and computer camera, a microphone, a digital projector, and Microsoft Excel and Word software for project documentation.

The students:
Mott Hall is a science, math, and technology magnet school for Community School District 6, which serves the North Harlem-Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. It enrolls 450 students in grades four through eight. Seventh grade students participated in this project. Approximately 85 percent of the student population are first- or second- generation immigrants from Latin American, especially the Dominican Republic. Approximately 10% are African Americans. The others are almost all immigrants from other countries. More than 60% of the students are girls.

Overall value:
The exciting and motivating opportunity for middle school students to actually design and construct an experiment that will be launched into space aboard a NASA research shuttle is a once-in-a-lifetime event. How better to gain and appreciation for (and, hopefully, a love of) scientific investigation than to do real science and be responsible for reporting your results to the world. The power of technology to connect students with the world is powerfully demonstrated by this kind of program.

Grab opportunities for "authentic" learning! Don't be humble, but be prepared for a lot of hard work.


About the teacher:
Susan Herzog is a middle school science teacher at the Mott Hall School-IS223. In addition to teaching seventh grade life science, Susan is the Director of Mott Hall-CCNY STARS, a collaboration between the two schools in which eighth grade students spend three hours a week working with mentors in CCNY Science and Engineering Research laboratories. She has a bachelor's degree and a master's in secondary science teaching from the City College of the City University of New York. She entered teaching as a second career at age 48, has been teaching for nine years, and is a pioneer in the use of the Internet in her school.


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