i am using this photo again. sue me.
this is a writeup about the field trip that we went on for Zane's class a week or so ago. One of the 5th grade teachers managed to get a grant to take the whole fifth grade on this field trip to the challenger learning center (which normally costs about six hundred dollars per school!) at the chabot space and science center, one of my favorite space museums and scope observatories in the bay area. we did the voyage to mars scenario.
on this field trip the kids do a simulation of bringing a ship into mars atmosphere and landing a capsule, crew exchange, and then guiding the ship back home for the 6month long voyage back to earth. the team in the mission control (on simulated mars) does all of the commanding, and the team on the ship does all of the work. with the crew exchange this means that both crews get to experience each role, and must decide during the 5 minute switchover which info is vital to show and communicate in person, and what can be explained over the radio.
all of the teams, depending on their job, had radio headsets and computers. most of the information learned had to be relayed somehow to the team on the the ship. the teams were: REM (remote, guiding the robotic arms for experiments), ISO (isolation, working on isolated chemical experiments while in space), PROBE (building and launching a probe to study one of the two moons (team had to decide which moon was more worthwhile for their one probe exp)),
NAV (navigation, the mathematics of landing and driving the ship), MED (medical, observing and taking care of the astronauts on board the ship), DATA (data, analyzing data and keeping the data flow moving between the teams, and analyzing relevant data), LS (lifesupport, keeping the lifesupport systems working on the ship), COM (communications, keeping the communications flowing between the ships, relaying messages, sorting and prioritizing communications).
all of the parents/chaparones roleplayed that we were telepathic aliens that were unable to communicate via speech. we were there to observe the earth space teams, but were unable to say anything besides the phrase "i don't know, what do you think?". this kept the children from looking to adults for all the answers
and there was a significant portion of work to do for each team. zane as the navigator had to calculate the positions of mars, the moons, earth, the sun, and the ship so as to calculate the final approach vector needed. it was super cute. also her calculator was broken so she had to do all the math in her head. AS IT SHOULD BE.
eventually they "landed" the ship, and there was a 5 min crew turnover where the teams needed to impart valuable information about where they were in various projects, and train their replacement in how to use the equipment. the simulation is run like a real ship, only a few channels of comm traffic at a time, so messages must be tagged and relayed by order of importance. for instance, the nav team had a permanent open radio channel to drive the ship, but the medical team had to wait their turn, and prioritize messages based on available comm channels, etc.
once on board the ship they had to prepare for takeoff, and then simulate liftoff. it was funny, all the kids bounced around in their seats so it looked like they were on a real ship (there were video channels back to mission control which were on the big wall monitors) then there was more work to be done! experiments were in progress, the probe had to be finished so it could be launched on one of the flybys on the way home.
and suddenly, emergency! on the way in the ship had had one emergency where the humidity went dangerously low and had to be fixed else fires would start from built up static electricity. this time the raging dust storm that had been getting closer and forced the quick takeoff was affecting the air system which had to be shut down and rerouted through clean filters.
but first all astronauts except LS had to prepare to evac since there was only 3 mins of air left!
luckily our crack LS team was able to reroute the air with only 8 seconds to spare, and the team continued on their journey home.
the probe team was able to assemble the probe and launch it successfully, choosing which moon to study based on their scientific studies of known information.
it was an amazing field trip, about 2.5 hours and honestly the most realistic thing i had ever seen for a field trip. the kids all had to solve real problems and work together to make the mission a success. so often on field trips all the parents give the answers, help the kids out, etc, which doesn't really foster independence in the kids, so this was a real change of pace and i was so proud of zane at the end for doing insane amounts of math on the fly under pressure.
so if you ever have a chance to visit the chabot center, i highly recommend that you try and hook this simulation up. they have a couple other scenarios as well, and it is expensive but i bet if people ever wanted to we could get a group together to seriously defray the costs.
i am using this photo again. sue me.