Episcopal second graders are participating in an out-of-this-world project-based learning unit on space. The QUEST Center in Foster Hall recently served as Space Camp Headquarters for these adventurous astronaut candidates. Students spent five days at headquarters where they participated in group activities and hands-on learning experiences.
Telling Stories through the Stars
Learning the Scientific Method with Seeds
In Kitchen Chemistry, second graders learned how astronauts grow food in space using hydroponics. Students started by planting vegetable seeds in tiny cubes. Now, as the seeds sprout, students are monitoring and tracking their growth. Dr. Lewis introduced the hydroponic concept with the help of an old yoga mat and a container of water. Once the seedlings are repotted into little baskets, they are placed inside holes cut in the yoga mat. The yoga mat floats on the surface of the water, and the baskets with plants are partially submerged in water. The design provides an easy way to create a hydroponic system using recycled materials.
Throughout the growing process, scientific discussions and discoveries occur. For example, students are cultivating the same type of carrot in three different types of water to determine which water (regular water, sugar water or salt water) is most conducive to growing food. Later on, students will plant a seed in water and an identical seed in soil to determine which medium works best. “They are learning the scientific method and designing their own experiments,” says Dr. Lewis.
Developing Critical Thinking Skills One Turn of a Screw at a Time
In the vastness of space, you can’t call a repairman when something breaks. With that in mind, students were challenged to take apart a variety of electronics. “The kids loved it,” says Dr. Lewis. “Usually, parents don’t let kids take things apart so this was a real treat.” As students disassembled the devices, they also developed life skills such as how to use a screwdriver. Once the machines were broken into tiny pieces, Dr. Lewis says numerous students truly enjoyed the challenge of trying to put them back together. “It’s like a puzzle,” she says. “They could have done that all day.” With each turn of the screwdriver, students were developing problem-solving, critical thinking and motor skills, which are certainly important for visitors to outer space.
The project-based unit is far from complete. The future astronauts are now participating in agility, strength and balance training during physical education. In the classroom, students are writing about their experiences and keeping a Space Camp Journal. Eventually, the second graders will research a celestial body and share what they’ve learned with their classmates. In addition, they will return to the QUEST Center to program robots and participate in a Mars landing engineering challenge. It’s a great time to be a second grader!