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  • Elizabeth Barrett-Zahn

Model Rover and Landing Pod

Day three was going to be a busy one with all the students in grades 1-6 (31 total) meeting in the Library for our final STEM Challenge. Much of the work is part of the NASA BEST Program, designed for grades 3-5. The best program focuses on Moon Rovers and the Moon, we made an adjustment to make our destination Mars instead. We grouped two older students with two younger students and we were off for the FUN. Our brain-warmup activity was to build the tallest building using only 10 index cards. There were a few clarifying questions and then the groups were off building.

Today we had lots of extra help with the international teachers (young people from Poland and Kyrgyzstan who teach English classes) sitting in. Lots of the teachers from the school stopped by and even the school principal was seen on the floor with kids working on design issues for a model rover!

To engage the students I showed some video clips of the Mars Rovers: Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. Due to unwieldy translation, I had to cut out a bit of the finer details and attention to detail I would have liked to have presented. The basic gist was understood and the students excitedly got to work: first planning and then building their models. Just like in the States, many wanted to rush through the planning part to get to the building part. I encouraged more details and labels when I could.

Some behavior issues did occur with students not wanting to work with each other or feeling that their ideas were not being valued by the group.

Here, I tried to help with some strategies I would use for conflict resolution but sometimes it just seemed better to split the group and allow students to work more independently. I certainly can't change long-lasting behaviors in a morning session.

Once we had completed our models, the next step was measuring how far they would go down a ramp. We were only able to come up with one ramp, so we all gathered around, took turns and cheered or giggled as the Rovers went down the ramp. This would have led to more revisions and testing but due to our timeframe and some lack of materials we decided it was time to introduce the Landing Pods.

I used NASA computer-simulated videos of the landings of Spirit and Opportunity using a parachute and then the giant bouncing balloon method. We also looked at the Curiosity landing, with it's lowering cable and jets. Next, we needed to look at what materials we had to build with: balloon (very popular), shopping bags (ah!, parachutes, maybe), newspaper (cushioning), and the usual assortment of other household items.

The students jumped on this activity right away and started constructing various forms of landing pods to protect their Rover from the three-story drop! There was excitement, some frustration and lots of eager anticipation.

And the final event! The Great Rover Landing Pod Drop. Each was released from the third-floor balcony into the play area where the excited students and teachers awaited the results. As each Rover was dropped, the team ran up to examine the results. There were some cheers of success and a few, "Oh, No!" moments. We ending a few minutes past our scheduled time and everyone quickly ran off for lunch because the day (the last day of their Explorers Camp Program) was not over for them.

Soon we would all be loaded on a bus and we would spend the afternoon on a beach engaged in super fun, but tricky team building activities.

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