Yesterday was one of THOSE days. The kind where you are like, “Wow, this teaching thing? I kinda just totally love it.” You know, where engagement is at an all time high, kids are collaborating, and learning? It’s in the air.
They were building model Mars rovers. I know, many would say, “But THAT is not in the curriculum. Building a Mars Rover is not EVEN a Common Core State Standard.” But in that one little activity came so much learning. So much thought, connecting, and real authentic experiences with the curriculum along the way.
We’ve been studying Mars and have already learned a little about how the rover got to Mars. Students used diagrams and photographs of Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity and worked in small teams to compare and contrast these rovers. We also tried driving the rovers. What parts were there? What was each rover’s job? What did we know about the surface of Mars and how would that effect the rover? Their answers were full connections. Their questions? They were like little shovels digging deeper.
Next, students priced each item for their rover so that they could analyze the cost and determine where most of their budget was spent. Cost comparisons among various designs were held as I asked questions and students compared with each other. Students figured their own budgets by multiplying and adding to reach their grand total. Our most expensive rover was $2,465. A tiny bit cheaper than NASA’s.
While working on their plans, students completed diagrams of their rover designs, complete with labels, and presented their idea to their own “Board of Scientists” in the classroom. It was our first try at classroom presentations, so our focus was on speaking with a loud clear voice and being a great audience.
As a group, we held a discussion on what type of graph would be best to display the budget. Kids took turns justifying what type of graph would work best, but ulitmately, the decision was made by each student to use a pie chart. The pie charts were created using Create-A-Graph.com. Since it’s early in the year, we also learned how to save a PDF to the classroom server. That will come in handy. A couple of students served as “PDF experts” and taught the rest of the class how to save.
At the computers, each student shared their pie chart with a partner and explained what it meant. I roamed and overhead great discussions about the size of the ‘pieces’ and how that meant it was a ‘big part of the budget.’
Finally, we brainstormed questions we had for the scientists who worked on the Mars Rover Curiosity. Then, at the close of our day, we did a Google Hangout (webcast chat) with one of those scientists. Dr. Sengupta described her job to us, answered student questions, and inspired each student to reach for the stars. She talked with us about the descent process, the parachute, the collaboration involved in building. The kids recognized her from 7 Minutes of Terror and were so thrilled.
The Mars Rover may not be a Common Core Standard, but everything we did with it? It is. It was real thinking. Digging deeper. Questioning. Making connections. Collaborating. Not answering questions about a fake graph from a workbook or writing a pretend interview about a scientist. It was real. Afterall, isn’t that what learning is?