Building for the Future

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					  Reprinted with permission from The Florida Science Teacher; Journal of the Florida
       Association of Science Teachers. Cover story from the Winter 2007 issue.

                             Building for the Future
“I’M not going into the boys’ room!” exclaimed one female student, clutching her mom’s
arm for support… and so began the opening night tour of our school building during our
new family science program, Lunar Challenge. We wanted our students to take a closer
look at the everyday systems in their lives, such as waste management, health and
recreation, food preparation and communications systems, to become aware of how
pervasively technology is integrated into their world. During four evening sessions last
winter, a group of fifteen students in grades 6-8 and their families accomplished that goal.
Simulating NASA roles, they analyzed the school as a model and adapted the information
to design and construct systems for the first lunar colony using recycled materials. If we
are going to build a future colony on the moon, there are human needs to be addressed:
What are we going to do with our waste products? How are we going to store our food?
How are we going to talk to earth? What if we get sick? How are we going to stay warm
or cool? So much to consider! Let us share with you how we engaged the support of
our community to brainstorm solutions to these problems and to help launch this rocket
powered program!

 Our school is a NASA Explorer School (NES). One of our goals was to increase students’
interest, participation, and knowledge in the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering,
and math). We wanted to expose them to careers and help them to see how STEM concepts
are applied in everyday jobs. We were searching for resources to achieve this goal when the
NES program office offered an opportunity to become involved with the Lunar Challenge
program. Its exploration theme aligned well with our school’s magnet focus of aerospace
and we knew it would be appealing to our students. In addition, it offered a fabulous way to
get parents involved with the school and their child, and have fun doing it! The program’s
approach was unique in having teams of students and their parents converse about personal
and future human needs, how these might be met by technological solutions and how
scientific factors might influence the design outcomes.

Based on a timeline provided in the Lunar Challenge curriculum kit our program
planning began several months in advance of our late fall target date, Allowing adequate
lead time to go through the teacher’s binder, do scheduling, enroll business partners and
undertake outreach to families turned out to be essential. Our delivery team was
comprised of a Technology Education Teacher, and myself, a Magnet Resource Teacher.
We shared prep responsibilities and the facilitation of student and family learning in our
role as “Project Directors”. Our first hurdle occurred in October when our attempts to get
an adequate number of families to sign up did not succeed. We had used school
announcements on the “Morning Show” and sent home flyers, hoping for a December
schedule. That did not work. A new strategy of soliciting specific students with an
interest in aerospace topics provided by the science teaching staff, selecting a January
start date and providing personal phone calls to the families of students the teachers had
recommended did the trick.
We purposely “invited” families who had previously been actively involved in education
as well as those we wanted to encourage for the first time. That mix ended up working
beautifully in the team context of the program. Three parent-child partners worked
together on each of five Design Teams. Each team had to build Modules that would
ultimately fit together, or in NASA talk…all of the systems had to be fully integrated.
New families benefited from the leadership and enthusiasm of their more experienced
partners. We learned that we needed to allow students to “switch out” caregivers or
parents during the four sessions and in one case a student invited her seventh grade
science teacher to act as a surrogate parent during the two weeks her mother had work
conflicts, so that she could participate.

To support the families’ efforts in research and design, we invited friends, parents,
colleagues and our school’s business partners to participate as mentors. Our school had
previously had success inviting corporations to send volunteers to a Career Day. We
leveraged these previous relationships and added some new ones to solicit advisors for
each Design Team. Mentors were asked to come for at least one evening; most chose to
stay throughout. What follows are examples of who we contacted and how we assigned
them: The first invitation went to my old college roommate who is an owner of a
Sonny’s Bar-B-Q restaurant. She and her daughter, the Marketing Director, agreed to
come and advise the “Nutrition and Food Production” group on food preparation and
proper storage. Our school’s Physical Education coach stepped forward to share ideas
with the “Health and Recreation” team. Raytheon, an aerospace company, provided an
engineer that had expertise in aerospace systems integration and data analysis for the
“Environmental Systems” Design Team. The plant manager from Wheelabrator, a
subsidiary of Waste Management that specializes in turning garbage into energy, helped
his Environmental team learn how to dispose of waste properly on the moon. Verizon, a
                                      telecommunications company, offered the “Research
                                      and Development” team a mentor who knew how to
                                      develop communication systems. Lastly, KB Home,
                                      a national construction company, sent their
                                      Supervisor of Construction to assist the “Human
                                      Habitation” team. These volunteers were excellent
                                      role models for our students. A new corporate
                                      initiative called Tapping America’s Potential
                                      (Business Roundtable 2005) focuses on getting kids
                                      interested in technological careers. This kind of
                                      hands-on opportunity for community members to
                                      come to school, showcase their knowledge and
                                      answer kids’ career questions in person is important
                                      for students and our business partners. A city
                                      newspaper highlighted our mentors’ efforts in a
                                      feature article that demonstrated their community
Mentor Shares Communications Plan

With our mentors and family participants in place, we were ready to begin! An inquiry
framework for learning was introduced in the first session, intertwined with a
technological design problem statement: “How can we design a colony that will sustain
life on the moon?” The idea that the systems in the school might make a good model
jump-started the family data gathering efforts on the first night. Our custodian and
principal guided the group on a behind-the-scenes tour of our school to start developing
their systems thinking, an important “Unifying Concept” in the National Science
Education Standards (NRC 1996). Each family pair looked for examples of components
of their individual area of design responsibility as they peeked into our cafeteria freezers
and food storage areas, examined our air conditioning system, school plumbing and
wiring, science labs, gym, nurse’s trailer, lavatories and principal’s office (Mission
Control!). Over the next
three sessions, teams
continued the inquiry
process by asking
questions of mentors,
making action plans,
gathering data from the
school and online
Learning Links,
analyzing and
communicating thoughts
as they built components
into subsystems, then
integrated all units to
complete the colony.
                                      Teammates Brainstorm Early Design Options

The initial “problem”, simulating NASA’s initiative to Explore Earth, Moon, Mars and
Beyond, was relevant and of high interest to our families. It was perfect for enhancing
students’ “abilities of technological design” (NRC 1996). The majority of action in Lunar
Challenge involves the construction of the teams’ proposed designs. In creating their
solutions students took into account the personal backgrounds and interests of their
family and teammates. There were great examples of how family teams applied science
                                                     concepts to a technological process.
                                                     The Health and Recreation team
                                                     chose basketball as one form of
                                                     exercise, but placed the hoops much
                                                     higher to account for the reduced
                                                     lunar gravity. The Greenhouse team
                                                     researched plant growth
                                                     requirements to ensure adequate
                                                     food, then built redundant systems to
                                                     protect the astronauts’ supply. One
                                                     female student expressed a common
                                                     reaction when she shared, “I
                                                     LOVED the building part!”
Recreation Designers Add Portholes for Earth Viewing
Materials embedded in the curriculum allowed us to evaluate the participants’
understanding of systems.
Families documented steps in
Design Team portfolios. They
earned incentives, such as
Building Permits and a Passport
to the Moon, by sharing their
weekly thinking. During the final
“Link-up” a rubric was available
for all of us to reflect on how well
we addressed the initial problem
question and to determine if we
had in fact built a viable colony.
Of course the families declared
themselves, “Go for Launch”!
                                           Student Reports Habitation Ideas to Group

Undertaking our own Lunar Challenge has helped us build for the future in multiple
ways. We anticipated gains in science and technology skills, but we were surprised by
how positively relationships changed. Our principal was thrilled with the way parents
and community partners connected with the school. The mentors, students and parents
had such a good time they did not want to leave when the program was over.

Students built skills in leadership, communication, technology, engineering, problem-
solving, creative and critical thinking. They saw the application of their school studies
and how this learning can be useful in the real world. Remember the young lady who
was hesitant early on? She and two other girls got so excited that they applied for
acceptance into our special “John Glenn Top Gun Academy” science club, which
involves an application process and a rigorous community interview. One male student
formed a new interest in learning after getting to know his 7th grade science teacher on a
personal level during Lunar Challenge. He had a received a D in her class but began
working harder for her and raised his science grade to a B by the end of the year.

And last, the program is building recognition and support for expanded district-wide
collaboration with community partners. The work accomplished at our school this year
was recognized with a School-to-Careers Program of Excellence award by our district.
Colleagues who visited Lunar Challenge sessions have expressed interest in utilizing the
activities for other enrichment opportunities and in promoting program implementation
for all of our district’s middle schools.

Launching this program delivered great partnership benefits, stretched our own teaching
skills and increased both excitement and achievement for our students. Perhaps one
student summed it up best when he said, “I think I want to be an engineer and I know
I want to work at Raytheon.” Now that’s building for the future!

-Ms. Lynn Langford McDaniel
                  Lunar Challenge Teams Celebrate Completed Colony

Business Roundtable. 2005. Tapping America’s Potential: The Education for Innovation
Initiative. Available at

National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington,
D.C.: National Academy Press. 115-119.

NRC. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.