Ten students at Pleasant View Elementary were given a critical task last Friday: find a NASA spaceship lost somewhere in the outer planets, rescue its crew and bring them safely back to base. They did it all without leaving the classroom.
The simulation was facilitated by the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado, a nonprofit. A "mission commander" in Colorado Springs, Heather, communicated with the students over Skype and gave out clues to get them started.
The third, fourth and fifth graders watched the film Apollo 13 as background and came to class dressed in astronaut attire: shirt and tie, pocket protectors, brainy glasses. They were headquartered on "Mars" in the year 2080 - teacher Jim Stoeckl said they covered with windows with red and black construction paper to create a backdrop - and divided into three teams.
Each team used math concepts learned in class to help solve the puzzle. Navigation plotted coordinates with ordered pairs. Transmission decoded encrypted symbols into messages. And, once the missing ship was found, the cargo team calculated how much food, water and oxygen was needed to retrieve the stranded astronauts, given the distance. The entire mission - which was successful - took two hours.
Astronomy has been a prominent subject studied this year. Stoeckl's class has learned about the size, order and atmospheric conditions of planets, what a light year is, and built a scale model of the solar system, suspended from the ceiling. The interactive mission was the perfect conclusion, he said.