Archive for February, 2011

I haven’t posted anything in several weeks because I’ve been very busy preparing entries for two major teacher contests, neither of which are related specifically to this blog. The first contest is for Curriculum Support Materials for the Explore Mars program, with teachers creating lessons and other materials about Mars exploration that can be incorporated into other classes and curricula, such as Earth science or astronomy or geology. I had been meaning to update and improve some lessons I’d put together several years ago for the NASA Explorer Schools program workshops I helped plan at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Alluvial Fan-Notch Peak

Alluvial fans at Notch Peak, Utah

North Rim of Holden Crater

North Rim of Holden Crater on Mars

These lessons included a Site Selection activity, where teams of students use Mars maps to find suitable landing sites for Mars rovers (such as the upcoming Mars Science Lab [Curiosity] rover).

The second lesson was a new one, using Google Earth to compare and contrast landforms on Earth and Mars, such as alluvial fans in Holden Crater with alluvial fans west of Notch Peak in the House Range in western Utah. I located terrains in the Great Basin and used them as analogs for Martian terrains, with exact longitude and latitude, that could be looked up and viewed in 3D on Google Earth. I’m going to try this out in my geology class tomorrow. Here’s a .PDF of it.

(Teacher instructions): Mars_on_Earth-teacher

(Student version): Mars_on_Earth_Student

Monument Valley

Monument Valley, Arizona

Deuteronilus Mensae

Deuteronilus Mensae on Mars

The third lesson is an update of one I’ve used in my 3D classes and astronomy classes: to take a mystery box terrain and use a grid of holes in the box’s lid and a lollipop stick with measurements on the side to calculate the altitude of the hidden terrain at each grid location. This is an old activity, but my spin on it was to have the students take the data, type it into a word processing program as a .txt file, then use ImageJ software from NIH to translate the numbers into a grayscale image, which was cleaned up in GIMP and translated into a 3D model in Daz3D Bryce. It sounds complex, but converting data between various multimedia software packages is something I do all the time. In fact, this process can be used to visualize many types of scientific data sets in 3D. Here’s a .PDF of the activity  (teacher version): Mars_to_Model

I started uploading this lesson two minutes before the deadline (10:00 p.m. my time, Jan. 31) along with a Powerpoint (PDF version included here: Mars_Lessons_Overview ). But my e-mail suddenly bogged down (the Powerpoint was too large) and I finally had to submit the files in two e-mails. But then I got a bounceback saying the Explore Mars e-mail was full. After a few minutes of panic, I sent the files via an alternate route as an attachment to the e-mail address of the President of the organization, whom I had communicated with a few times before.

The next contest was the Apple Distinguished Educator program, and in addition to a long written application I needed a two-minute video showing how great I am at using Apple products. I’d spent weeks working on it, but the deadline was at 1:00 a.m. Feb. 1 (just three hours after the Explore Mars deadline) and by 12:30 I only had the final edit of the video done half way. So I never submitted the application. And I think I had a good chance. It’s just too hard to try to do two major contests at the same time. So I’ll have to wait another year and submit my application then, with any changes. I’ll keep chipping away at the video over the next two weeks and get it ready for next year, then all I’ll need to do is make a few changes and send it off. One good thing to come out of all the work was that I dug into my computer files and discs and found some things I thought were lost, including a working Mac version of the “Unveiling the Red Planet” interface my students designed back in 2004 as part of the Mars Exploration Student Data Team program they were chosen for. Much of the work for that project was lost because a hard drive I had saved the files onto was stolen out of my classroom. But I had apparently saved a few things elsewhere, which I was able to find. Here’s what the interface looked like:

Mars project interface

Mars project interface, 2004

This is always my greatest fear: that there will be a wonderful opportunity that I will either fail to find out about until it’s over, or I won’t be able to get the application done on time. But I’m also patient. For many of the best things I’ve had the chance to do, such as the NASA Educator Workshop program or being a NASA Explorer Schools educator facilitator, I had to apply multiple times over the course of several years. I kept trying, and each year as I applied I got better at it until these opportunities finally came true. I really wasn’t looking forward to spending a week in Phoenix in July for the training, anyway (yes, I know that’s “sour grapes” rationalization on my part).

But now back to the world of the chemical elements. I’ll have a new post soon. I received word two days ago that we’ve been selected by the Air Force Foundation to receive a $250 grant for use in our Elementary Science Demonstration program. This will certainly help to defray costs. Thank you, Air Force!

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