For the purposes of teaching about the MESSENGER spacecraft and mission design, and for making that information relevant to the lives of young people today, we have created an educational program which parallels the 10-year MESSENGER mission. We start from the notion of sending a man-made probe to the closest planet to our Sun to learn information, and we ask students to consider the processes and manpower needed to complete such a mission.
We continue by introducing students to different branches of science that must be studied for understanding the data that experts retrieve from the spacecraft. These include astronomy, physics, astrogeophysics, chemistry, astrogeochemistry, geology, astrogeology, dynamics, electrodynamics, hydrodynamics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, magnetism, meteorology, astrometeorology, optics, and geomorphology, to name a few.
We extend beyond the sciences to make interdisciplinary connections, including mathematics, technology, social studies, and all aspects of literacy to strengthen students’ abilities across the curriculum, helping them discover cultural as well as scientific understandings of planets, the Sun, and the skies.
We develop students’ literacy of science by using appropriate scientific vocabulary and concepts, while also helping them build their literacy through science, as we use inherently fascinating scientific phenomena as a means of promoting reading and writing.
We launch challenges that motivate students to build better systems, design new experiments, discover improved ways of doing things, and observe the world around them, in an effort to provide them the required context to best learn the skills they will need throughout life, in all areas.
We approach science education by asking essential questions that drive the quest for knowledge, by giving students ample opportunities to explore situations that embody important scientific ideas, and by encouraging them to express their ideas about what they are exploring. Teachers are then able to choose appropriate ways of helping students test their ideas, to discover which ideas apply more widely and may be more scientifically-derived than what they had previously thought.
We help teachers create an environment conducive to Socratic dialogue so that students are active participants in the acquisition of personal knowledge and in the construction of a common knowledge base. To do this, we strive to provide teachers an understanding of science so that they can recognize and promote the small, but relevant ideas that are related to larger, more significant theories.
We design activities that require first-hand observations as well as in-depth study of existing data. In both cases, students are allowed to develop ideas more fully as they work through their own creative thinking and problem-solving, rather than through rote memorization. It is essential that children change their own misconceptions as a result of what they find themselves, not merely by accepting other ideas they have been told are better than their own.
We encourage creativity and thinking outside the box, while making sure that national science standards are directly addressed in every lesson. Children learn science best through a process that helps them link ideas and develop new concepts. We make full use of science process skills (observing, measuring, hypothesizing, predicting, planning and carrying out investigations, interpreting, inferring, and communicating) to help them make sense of the world around them. In addition to traditional summative evaluations at the end of a lesson, we offer forms of formative assessment throughout the teaching process, so that the teacher is aware of students’ evolving ideas and skills. Furthermore, this information is an integral part of effective teaching, since it can significantly change the direction of a given lesson to better address problems or misconceptions that persist.
In general, we provide a context for understanding the significance of scientific ventures and engineering feats such as the MESSENGER mission, and we open the door to students who will both understand and build the future.
The MESSENGER story, presented in grade-appropriate ways at four different levels (Pre-K-1, 2-4, 5-8, 9-12), is told through several lessons in each of the following three themes:
Comparative Planetology - By studying Mercury, we look at the diversity of worlds and add to the knowledge base about the Solar System, its formation and evolution.
The Solar System Through History - By studying Mercury, we learn about scientific discoveries and cultural interpretations from ancient civilizations to the present.
Framing Pathways to Answers: The Scientific Process in Action - By studying Mercury and our efforts to reach there, we define and solve design and engineering problems, and approach scientific research in innovative and productive ways.
Each lesson includes a description of of the relevant national science standards. These can be used as a guide for incorporating the MEMS lessons into your curriculum.
Greenbelt, MD 20771