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, and what future exploration of the Solar System might entail. 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 a MESSENGER Education Module (MEM) 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 through as many as three Lessons at various grade levels. There are also two overarching MEMs that carry elements of all the themes at the same time.
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.
Select one of the MEMs from the list below and then select a Unit within that MEM to see the specific standards matrix for each Unit.
Theme 2: The Solar System through History (being planned)
Overarching Module: Using MESSENGER Data (being planned)
A MESSENGER Fellow in your area
See the list of Fellows, their locations, and their contact information on this Meet the Fellows page
Carnegie Institution for Science
Email Julie Edmonds
National Center for Earth and Space Science Education
Email Harri Vanhala