Saturday, March 22, 2014

To Boldly Go...

Please excuse the blatant Star Trek reference, but I could not help myself.   I had the opportunity to conduct observations of my STARLAB teachers this week.  STARLAB is our portable planetarium system.  We upgraded our system to the full digital version last year and in reality created our school system's first fully digital classroom.  There is very little that this system cannot do that a conventional "brick and motor" planetarium cannot do.  The one major difference is that ours does not come with the overly comfortable chairs.  We have carpet squares instead.  Not that the kids mind.  From preK-5, I have never observed students in the STARLAB where OOoooo's and Ahhhh's were not common.  It is simply one of the best examples of an immersive environment.  

As I sat and watched the lesson take place, my mind drifted to the NGSS.  What role with the STARLAB have in an NGSS based curriculum?  Traditional planetarium programs are mostly presenter/teacher centered.  The audience typically is a passive participant. Let's start by looking at the grade one "Space Systems" performance expectations.

Students who demonstrate understanding can:
1-ESS1-1.Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted. [Clarification Statement: Examples of patterns could include that the sun and moon appear to rise in one part of the sky, move across the sky, and set; and stars other than our sun are visible at night but not during the day.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment of star patterns is limited to stars being seen at night and not during the day.]
1-ESS1-2.Make observations at different times of year to relate the amount of daylight to the time of year. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on relative comparisons of the amount of daylight in the winter to the amount in the spring or fall.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to relative amounts of daylight, not quantifying the hours or time of daylight.]
How would these expectations be realized in a regular classroom?  On a literal interpretation, the implication is that these two performance expectations would take most of a school year to master.  Some of these patterns occur within one 24 hour cycle and some require an entire year to observe.  Enter the STARLAB.  One of the great benefits of the STARLAB is the ability to control time.  An entire year of patterns can be compressed into minutes or seconds.  Students can watch where the sun rises and sets throughout the year for our latitude (39 degrees North) or the cycle of the moon phases.  This becomes a real exercise in observation for students.  They would be able to watch the motion and make predictions about what the movement means and what implications it has for day length.   This is also a great math connection.  With the digital planetarium, a clock can be virtually mounted to the sky.   I feel very fortunate that our school district has these systems because I'm not sure how we would meet these performance expectations without them. 

We currently have two of these systems.  During the course of a school year, they are able to visit 1/3 of our schools (roughly 34+/-).  That means the STARLAB will visit a school every three years.  So now the conundrum.  If STARLAB is the best way to teach these performance expectations, then how do we insure every student has a chance to participate.  The second set of Space System performance expectations occurs at grade 5:

Students who demonstrate understanding can:
5-PS2-1.Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down. [Clarification Statement: “Down” is a local description of the direction that points toward the center of the spherical Earth.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include mathematical representation of gravitational force.]
5-ESS1-1.Support an argument that differences in the apparent brightness of the sun compared to other stars is due to their relative distances from the Earth. [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to relative distances, not sizes, of stars. Assessment does not include other factors that affect apparent brightness (such as stellar masses, age, stage).]
5-ESS1-2.Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky. [Clarification Statement: Examples of patterns could include the position and motion of Earth with respect to the sun and selected stars that are visible only in particular months.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include causes of seasons.]
Given the book ends of grade 1 and 5, our plan is teach have these units when the STARLAB is scheduled to come to a school.  Everyone in grades K-2 will teach the grade one unit.  Everyone in 3-5 will teach the grade 5 unit.  Obviously, there will need to be some significant modifications of language to meet the expectations for each grade level, but I am confident it can be done.  

My last dilemma is what Starfleet designation is most appropriate for STARLAB.  I am planning to paint the call letters on the side.  What do you think?  NCC-?????


1 comment:

  1. I've always preferred to think of a Starlab as a Tardis: it's bigger on the inside, and moves in time and space. While Star Trek is legendary I feel Doctor Who has a certain quality that is unique.