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My presentation

My Presentation at NSTA

On Saturday, March 12, I attended a presentation by Howard Lineberger on the Mars Exploration Student Data team program his students have participated in. It was at the Hilton Hotel, so I hopped the conference shuttle bus over. My students at Mountainland Applied Technology College had participated in this program during its first year in 2003-2004. We used dust opacity measurements from the Mars Global Surveyor probe to predict Martian dust storms. Now the program measures the geochemistry of Martian rocks using the CRISM instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. I’m glad to see that the program is still going, and I hope to get my students from Walden School involved next year for an astrobiology course I plan on teaching.

Measuring Mars

Teachers measuring the Mars model during my presentation

After the session, I rode the shuttle back to my hotel and prepared for my own session. I was in the Marriott hotel in the same room where many of the space science workshops were being held (and where I attended the Mt. Pisgah Observatory session the day before). The session before mine was by Pamela Wheffen, a Solar System Embassador who’s name I’d heard before. I didn’t get to hear her session because I didn’t want to interrupt, so I was pacing outside in the hall with my box of Mars stuff.

I was hoping to improve on the number of participants compared to my session on Thursday, and I was pleased to have about 15 people come and participate. I got all of my materials ready and walked through the Keynote presentation, then we tried out the three methods of measuring and recording the altitude data. This presentation is on my Mars to Model lesson that was submitted to Explore Mars’ competition (although I had submitted the proposal long before I heard of the competition).  A terrain made of clay or paper mache is placed in a box with holes drilled in the lid in a grid pattern (and it was a real pain to drill all the holes the other day). Using a lollipop stick, the height of the terrain is measured from the lid down using three techniques.

Clay model

A physical model of the Mars terrain

The first method uses color bars at intervals on the lollipop stick, and whatever color it comes to, the students record using colored markers on a graph paper sheet. This creates a color-coded topographic map of the terrain, and is appropriate for younger students. The second method uses a lollipop stick with marks in millimeters and numbers are recorded on a graph paper. Modeling clay is rolled out onto a piece of cardboard and drinking straws are cut to the same lengths as the terrain measurements, then stuck in the clay, thus creating a physical model of the terrain. This is appropriate for middle grades. The third method is for high school students. Using the same millimeter stick, the numbers are recorded into a .txt file, then converted to a grayscale image using the Image-J software from the National Institutes of Health. I then use GIMP or Photoshop to clean up the image, then move it into Daz3D Bryce to convert it into a virtual 3D model of the terrain.

This was quite a bit to demonstrate in one hour, but I had already given this presentation at the Utah Science Teachers Association conference in February, so my timing came out just right. It went very well, over all.

Financial District

Skyscrapers in the financial district, San Francisco

After my presentation I cleaned up my materials while the next group prepared. It was a duo from Texas presenting on lesson plans and activities (which they provide on a CD) on cosmology, which was quite cool and very useful for me in my astronomy courses. I then returned my stuff to my hotel and went and got some lunch of a meat pie and soup, which I ate in a small park between the Hilton and the Moscone Center. It felt nice to be outside in warm sunshine. I decided to skip the next session and went for a walk around the financial district of San Francisco. When I got to Market St., a St. Patrick’s Day parade had just ended and there were costumed dancers walking around, and a group of bike riders who weren’t costumed at all . . . and people taking photos of them. I’m definitely not in Utah anymore!

I walked back to the Hilton and attended the last part of the afternoon session, just more or less picking a session at random because I wanted to see the next session that would be in that room. After the session, I called my wife and found all was well at home, then went back in for the last session on creating hands-on activities for rural students in Vermont. I was just getting settled when someone walked in that I hadn’t seen in six years: Dave Seidel from JPL. I had worked with Dave for several years as part of the Solar System Educators Program and the NASA Explorer Schools program. He has been moved up to Assistant Director for Education Programs at JPL, which doesn’t surprise me at all. There are some great memories of those years and my involvement in NASA’s educational programs, and Dave was at the heart of it all. I remember at the educator conference at Cape Canaveral for the launch of the Mars 2001 Odyssey space probe that Dave set up a conference call with Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka, since this probe was named after his book. Dave was the person who called Sir Arthur, and he read out the questions we had submitted the night before, including one of mine. I also remember at the NES workshop in 2004 on robotics how he set up a movie evening in the Space Flight Operations Center. We sat in the visitors’ gallery and he played “Angry Red Planet” on the center screen while telemetry from various probes was coming in on the other two screens. It was the perfect setting for such a movie, and we all laughed our heads off at the appearance of the Bat-Rat-Spider-Crab and the female astronaut walking around Mars in high heels. I recall the puzzled expressions of the controllers in the ops center as they tried to figure out what this movie was all about. Yes, Mars is Red. And its Angry . . . It was great to see him again. He showed me some incredible online programs and data sets JPL has been posting, and some layers for Google Earth that can track satellites in real time, etc.

Downhill on Cable Car

Riding the Cable Car down from Nob Hill

After the sessions, I decided to take the cable cars over the top of the hill to fisherman’s wharf and Pier 39. I ate at the wharf (clam chowder) and walked around Pier 39, buying some kooshy caterpillars that light up when shaken for my sons. It was chilly but not cold, and fun to ride the cable cars again. I had forgotten just how steep some of these hills are.

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