There are three MESSENGER Education Modules, each corresponding to one theme on the MESSENGER Education and Public Outreach Program. Each Module contains one to three Units. Click on a Theme or Unit to download lessons.
- The Voyage Continues
- Ice in the Solar System
- Stories Across Cultures
- Staying Cool
- Spacecraft Design
Introduction to the MESSENGER Education Pedagogy, Themes, and Modules
Tonight, if you look up into the sky, you'll see the same bright lights that your ancestors admired, named, and used to find their way when they were lost, or to explain unusual events in their lives. With today's technological imaging, you can better see those stars, planets, moons, comets, meteors, asteroids, and now even artificial satellites.
As humans, we have always strived to increase our knowledge about the Universe. For centuries, we explored from the comfort of our own planet, Earth, where we could breathe air, sit on firm land, take notes on stone, paper, or computers, and teach others what we know through our writing and speaking. When we first ventured out into space in the mid-20th century, we had to change the way we gather, store, and share information. Now it would be done with machines that help us "see" in increasingly sophisticated ways, as we explore more deeply away from our home planet.
One of the ways we have learned to gather new information about other planets is to send out data-gathering instruments that are sensitive to a variety of influences. These instruments have to endure the stress of leaving the Earth's comfortable atmosphere atop a rocket, and continue to function under the most hostile conditions imaginable: the cold vacuum of space, the intense heat and radiation from the Sun, and the quick changes between the two as a spacecraft speeds along at thousands of miles per hour.
We go into space, to the Moon, and now to planets such as Mercury, even in the face of great risk, to push our problem-solving capabilities beyond current limits, and explore uncharted regions of the Universe. It is the nature of human exploration. We also do this because the potential benefits are too great to ignore. Indeed, it is only if we continue to explore beyond our reach that we will be able to better understand our own world, and address challenges that face us here on Earth.
One of the most recent of our instruments investigating other worlds in the Solar System is MESSENGER, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging mission, designed to study the planet Mercury. The spacecraft was launched in 2004; it will enter into orbit around Mercury in 2011 and observe the planet and its space environment for one year.
The goals of the mission not only include gathering massive amounts of information about the mysterious planet Mercury, but to also take the nation along for a thrilling ride of exploration. Indeed, bringing a sense to the general public of how mission planners overcome challenges and achieve triumphs has been taken on as a national responsibility.
The Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) team assembled to meet this challenge is an extensive network of individuals from the following organizations: American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); Carnegie Institution of Washington Carnegie Academy for Science Education (CASE); Center for Educational Resources (CERES) at Montana State University (MSU) – Bozeman; Challenger Center for Space Science Education (CCSSE); Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL); NASA's Minority University-SPace Interdisciplinary Network (MU-SPIN); National Air and Space Museum (NASM); Science Systems and Applications, Inc. (SSAI); and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).
To meet the goal of education and public outreach on a national level, a comprehensive set of activities coordinated with MESSENGER events has been designed to enliven education from kindergarten through college and to excite the public. These activities include education materials development, teacher training through an educator fellowship program, unique student investigations related to the MESSENGER mission, a television documentary, museum displays, and special outreach to underserved communities and minority students.
A few examples of these exciting initiatives include:
MESSENGER Education Module Development
A set of MESSENGER Education Modules (MEMs) will be produced in connection with the mission. The Modules are standardized presenter’s packages that can be used by educators and teacher trainers. They consist of a diverse mix of educational materials and multimedia resources and are intended for use nationwide in preK-12 classrooms. At the core of the MEMs are concept-based, inquiry-driven lessons intended for use in classrooms nationwide. These standards-based lessons address Solar System science, planetary observations through history, and the engineering associated with building and sending a spacecraft to another world. Carnegie Institution of Washington Carnegie Academy for Science Education is overseeing the development of the grade level preK-1 and 2-4 components. Challenger Center for Space Science Education is developing the grade level 5-8 and 9-12 components.
The MESSENGER Fellowship Program
The MESSENGER E/PO Program will sponsor a nationwide teacher training initiative whereby a cadre of Fellows—master science teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels—will receive training on the MEMs and conduct educator workshops nationally, training up to 27,000 grade preK-through-12 educators over the mission lifetime. Challenger Center for Space Science Education is responsible for developing and managing the Fellowship program.
Journey through the Universe Program
Training for educators on the MEMs will also be conducted as part of Challenger Center’s Journey through the Universe program. Established in 1999, the program reaches out to underserved communities nationally, providing programming for teachers, students, and families. For more information, visit: www.challenger.org/journey.
An extensive Web environment has been developed for the MESSENGER E/PO Program. Some aspects of the Web site include online science courses and classroom materials for preK-12 teachers. Among other services, the Web site will allow download of MEMs by an international audience.
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 human-made probe to the closest planet to the Sun, and we ask students to consider the processes and humanpower needed to complete such a mission.
We continue by introducing students to different branches of science that must be studied for an understanding of the data retrieved from the spacecraft. These include astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, thermodynamics, magnetism, and optics, to name just a few.
We extend beyond the sciences to make interdisciplinary connections to, e.g., 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 the 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 design challenges that motivate students to build systems, design 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 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 Education Modules will concentrate on the following themes:
Comparative Planetology – Understanding the planets as individual worlds and as part of a larger family by studying their similarities and differences. It is a look at what we know about our family of planets, and what we do not know. It also addresses what is currently known about Solar System formation and evolution. MESSENGER stories relevant to this theme include what Mercury tells us about the family of planets, and how MESSENGER observations are specifically framed to change our view of the Solar System.
The Solar System Through History – How we have come to know what we know about the Solar System. The student will explore the Solar System through the eyes of, and resources available to, past generations. MESSENGER stories relevant to this theme include different cultures’ views of Mercury through history as a case study of planetary observations; and how MESSENGER science and engineering stands on the shoulders of past generations.
Framing Pathways to Answers: The Scientific Process in Action – An exploration of the scientific process as applied to two fundamental types of problems:
- Solving engineering and design problems within a context of constraints.
- Exploring a phenomenon of nature by asking a question of that phenomenon, framing experimental pathways to acquire data, and interpreting that data in the context of a greater body of knowledge.
This thematic overview also places research and exploration in a human context. Relevant stories within this theme include solving MESSENGER engineering problems to make the mission possible, and framing experimental pathways to do MESSENGER science.
Each theme defines an Education Module that is a story in one to three Units, each like a chapter of a book. Each Unit is associated with its own sub-story told though as many as three Lessons at each of four grade levels: PreK-1, 2-4, 5-8, and 9-12. As an example, the "Framing Pathways" Module includes a Unit on Staying Cool and another Unit on Spacecraft Design. Besides the Lessons, a Unit might also contain design challenges—tasks intended to give the students the opportunity to put the concepts learned in the Lessons into an innovative use by challenging the students to come up with an experimental design addressing a specific engineering problem.
MESSENGER Educational Modules (MEMs) focus on not only what science is taught but also how science is taught. Many state and local districts use National Science Education Standards and Project 2061 Benchmarks as the foundation for their science curriculum. The MESSENGER Modules are mapped to the standards, with a standards matrix found in each Unit. The MEMs emphasize activities that encourage students to ask questions and become deeply involved in work that is based on their own ideas. MEMs stress inquiry-based, process-driven approaches to science education.