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This lesson focuses on why we explore space

Subject:

Science  

Grades:

4, 5  

   Why We Explore Space, Grade 4-5
by Matthew Dicks
Lesson #2:  Inductive Lesson

Central Concept:  The Importance of Space Exploration

Instructional Objectives:

1. Without prompts, students will be able to list at least three technological (electronic, communication, or digital) improvements that have resulted from the exploration of space.

2. Without prompts, students will be able to list at least two developments in building materials derived specifically from the exploration of space.

3. Without prompts, students will be able to fully explain how jet fuel has improved because of space exploration, and at least one reason why this is important to air travel.

4. Without prompts, students will be able identify at least three practical improvements that have resulted from space exploration that have also improved their own lives personally.

5. Without prompts and in a well-formulated, one page essay, students will defend the argument that the development of computers as a result of the efforts of the U.S. Space Program has alone justified the expense and danger of space exploration.

6. Without prompts and in a well-formulated, one page essay, students will judge whether or not humans’ seemingly inherent “need to know” is appropriate justification for the U.S. Space Program.

7. Without prompts and in a well-formulated essay, students will judge whether or not the possibility for future discovery in the U.S. Space Program warrants the cost and danger of future space exploration.

Materials Needed:

One large, yellow box with large question mark written on the front

A Tupperware container of dried fruit

A computer with the picture of an airplane on the screen (saved as wallpaper (background), cardboard facsimile if necessary)

A television tuned to CNN (cardboard facsimile if necessary)

Set:

Before the students arrive, set the box at the front of the room in a prominent position. As the students enter the class, walk over to the box and peak in a couple times, looking curious and surprised each time. If students ask you what is in the box, politely inform them that it is none of their business. When all the students have been seated, move to the front of the room beside the box and begin speaking. While speaking, continue to make causal glances at the box, as if worried that it might disappear.

Today we will be discussing why space exploration is important to us as human beings. I know that sitting here in this classroom, it might be difficult to understand how or why something like the Hubble Space Telescope is important to you, but it is, I assure you. As we have learned in previous classes, the exploration of space began hundreds of years ago with Greek and Roman astronomers like Galileo. Who can remind the class what Galileo was famous for? Good. Well, since the days of Galileo, astronomers and astronauts have been making our lives better and better without many of us even realizing it. So today, we will be discussing some of the things that space exploration has done to benefit human kind.

Body of the Lesson:

The body of the lesson contains three phases. The first phase will address instructional objectives #1 through #5, the second phase will address instructional objective #6, and the third stage will address instructional objective #7.

· Phase One

Place the Tupperware bowl, the television, and the computer in a position where the entire class can see them. Ask each student to take out a blank piece of paper and list the three items, leaving space in between each item.

I’ve assembled three items for your observation today. The first is a Tupperware container filled with dried fruit, the second is a television, and the third is a computer. Each of these items have been improved in some way as a direct result of the U.S. Space Program. And some have been improved in more ways than one. It is your job to guess what improvements might have resulted from the study and exploration of space. Take about five minutes to examine each item carefully. Use your imagination. This exercise will not be graded, so don’t be afraid to make wild guesses. None of you will guess all the improvements, so have fun with this and don’t worry too much about your answers. All I ask is that you use your brains for the next fifteen minutes and be creative. Write your guesses on the sheet of paper I asked you to take out. You may begin.

During the next five minutes, allow the students to work individually without interruption. During this time, you should attempt to attract more attention towards your yellow box. Peak inside a couple more times, keep an obvious eye on it, and so on. If a student asks what is inside, again politely tell the student that it is none of his or her business. After fifteen minutes have passed, ask the students to put down their pens and pencils.

Okay, now it’s time to see what you came up with. We’re going to discuss each item one by one, in the order I have given. Please feel free to share your guesses with the rest of the class. Who knows, you might just be right! Let’s begin with the Tupperware bowl full of dried fruit. Who wants to give me one of their guesses?

Direct a question and answer session until each student has had the opportunity to present one of their ideas, or until all the improvements have been discovered. If a guess seems strange or unexplainable, ask the student why he or she made such a guess. Probe into their thinking, and try to peak their curiosity. Once every student has had a chance to guess, reveal the answers (if not already discovered by the students). Start by only naming the actual improvement, for example hardened plastic, dehydrated food, or satellites. Then ask how each improvement might have aided in space exploration, and how the improvement has also made their own lives better. Follow the same procedure for the other two items

Answers:

The Tupperware is made from a hardened plastic that was invented for use on the Apollo missions to the Moon. While plastic itself had already been invented, NASA scientists improved the plastic so that it was harder and less flexible, ideal for storing food. NASA also invented dehydrated food for space flight, much like the dried fruit in the bowl. Dehydrated food lasts longer, is lighter, and takes up less space, all important necessities in space.

The television has several plastic components that were developed by NASA. Without these components, all televisions would still be the large, console variety of the 1940′s and 50′s, and would be much more expensive to manufacture. The television is tuned to CNN, a station that relies heavily upon satellites to receive news information the minute it happens from anywhere in the world. Satellites were the U.S. Space Program’s first steps into space. Without the use of satellites, the video of events we see on television so routinely today would have to be sent over phone lines or physically transported to the news station, slowing down the process of reporting of news. Also, news anchors would only be able to broadcast from studios, and never live at the scene of the action.

The computer has been completely re-designed because of the U.S. Space Program. In fact, without the Space Program, personal computers would probably not even exist today. In the 1950′s and 60′s, computers were so large that they filled entire rooms. These computers were slower and had a greater propensity to malfunction in comparison to today’s models. Because of space exploration, however, today’s computers are small, lightweight, relatively inexpensive, and more powerful than their larger predecessors. The wallpaper on this particular PC is an airplane, whose fuel has seen dramatic improvements through research conducted by NASA. Because of fuel development for such projects as the Space Shuttle, airplane fuel is now safer and cleaner than it was thirty years ago. Pilots no longer fly in fear of onboard explosions because of unstable fuel, and the improved fuel also allows aircraft to travel at greater rates of speed. The steel that is used in building aircraft is also a development of NASA, used in the construction of the Space Shuttle. It is lightweight and remarkably strong, making the aircraft stronger, safer, and lighter, and thus decreasing fuel consumption.

· Phase Two

When the first phase is complete, the three items should be put away to avoid potential distractions. You should then resume your position in front of the class beside the yellow box, and resume your peaking. The “lecture” that follows should be completely class-driven. This is very important. The words written here should only serve as a guideline. Be sure to wait an appropriate amount of time for students to answer your questions. Look for students to answer, and do not answer any questions yourself. Do not ask the questions in a rhetorical manner. You can direct students towards the discovery, but the discovery should be the student’s own doing.

Okay, so far we have discussed some of the technological benefits that have resulted from space exploration. But do you think that is the only reason that humans explore space, in hopes of generating useful by-products of the research? I don’t think so. I think that something much more profound is at work when we attempt to justify space exploration, something that I think is living inside each one of you.

You see, some people believe that the billions of dollars spent on space exploration would be better spent on projects here on Earth. It is true that space exploration is very, very expensive, and as we have learned, can also be very, very dangerous. Some people believe that things like better computers and dehydrated food are not enough to justify the continued exploration of space, and that we should spend our money on making the Earth a better place to live.

But I believe that there are more important reasons that humans explore space, more important than improved jet fuel or satellite television. I believe that there is a need that lives inside every human being, and I believe that it is living inside you right now.

How many of you have noticed that I have a box up here with me? Why do you think you might have noticed the box? Do you think that the color of the box had anything to do with you noticing? How about the question mark on front? How about your own curiosity? How many of you were just curious in general about what might be in the box, regardless of the color or design?

What if I told you that there was a hidden basement in the school, a basement that no student had seen in the last fifty years. How many of you would want to go down and explore the hidden basement? Why would you want to explore it?

What if I told you that a cave had been discovered at the edge of the school property, and that it was big and deep and dark? How many of you would want to explore the cave after school? Why might you want to explore the cave? Would you be worried about the cave being dangerous? Why would you want to explore the cave despite the danger?

I think that your answers prove that each of you are infected with the need to know (write “the need to know” on the chalkboard). But don’t worry, this isn’t a bad infection, in fact I think it’s a pretty good one. Throughout history, humans have sought to understand the unknown, just like you guys seek to understand you unknown today. Whether it be a new continent, a new ocean, or a new basement, men and women have been traditionally willing to risk their lives and their fortunes to explore the unknown. Lewis and Clark explored the Mid-West. Admiral Byrd explored the South Pole. Marco Polo traveled to China. Who can give me another example of explorers from history?

I think that each of you has a little bit of an explorer in you. Each one of you have expressed an interest in knowing what is in my box. Why? Why has it become so important to you to know what is hidden in my box? I think that my box is a lot like outer space. Who can guess why I might think this way? Do you agree with my analogy or do you disagree, and why?

I think that my box is a lot like outer space because it represents the unknown. None of you know what is hiding in my box. You can guess, but you’ll never know for sure unless I show you. Or unless you look for yourself. It is unknown to all of you. In a lot of ways outer space is the last unknown place to humans to explore. For the most part, we have finished exploring our own planet. Some people are still exploring the ocean bottom, but humans have pretty much been everywhere on Earth. Many people call outer space the Last Frontier. Why do you think people give it this name?

Now what if I told you that opening my box might be dangerous, that some of you might get hurt. I bet that some of you would still want me to open the box, wouldn’t you? Why? I think it’s because there is a little bit of an astronaut in each one of us. We are all willing to take some risk in order to solve a mystery, or to explore a new world. That’s how humans are. It’s normal. So even though space exploration is very expensive and very dangerous, I believe that humans will continue to explore outer space no matter what, because that is who they are. We are all filled with a “need to know.”

· Phase Three

Phase two should flow right into phase three without interruption. However, it is important that the students understand that a new topic is about to be discussed. Begin phase three by writing the word “potential” on the chalkboard underneath “the need to know.” Then return to your position beside the box. All the discussion rules for phase two still apply here. Allow the discussion to be class-driven, and wait for answers to all your questions.

Before I let you know what is in my box, let’s talk about one final justification for space exploration. I have put the word “potential” here on the board. Who can explain to the class what this word means?

In a lot of ways, potential is like the unknown. Both are mysteries to us. But when we talk about potential, we are generally talking about the good things that can come from our discovery process. For example, let’s talk about the potential of my box. What could be hidden inside these cardboard walls? What is the box’s potential? Do you think that the potential of this box has anything to do with your “need to know?” How are those two concepts linked?

I think that potential plays an important role in our need to know. If we cannot see potential in something, we are generally less interested in it. But with potential, with the opportunity for reward, our need to know becomes stronger and stronger. We’ve talked about the potential for my box, so now let’s talk about the potential for outer space. What potential does outer space have for humans? New worlds to visit or live on? New people to learn from? New technology that we cannot yet imagine?

The unfortunate thing about potential, however, is that it is never guaranteed. What if I told you that there was nothing in my box? How would you feel then? Would you be disappointed? What if you discovered that the hidden basement in the school was nothing more than a small, dark, empty room underneath the boy’s bathroom? How would you feel then?

But what if tomorrow you came to class and my box was still here, maybe over on that desk instead. Would any of you wonder if something was in it, even after finding out that it was empty today? Why would you still wonder, after having been so disappointed the day before?

I think that you would wonder for two reasons. First, your need to know. Just because you were disappointed once doesn’t mean that the explorer inside of you ran away and died. Your curiosity will live on, probably for the rest of your life. And it’s your curiosity, your need to know, that would make you want to look inside my box again and again.

Secondly, the potential of my box will keep you coming back. Just because it was empty today doesn’t mean it will be empty tomorrow. You never know what mysteries you can uncover, just by getting up and taking a peak.

I think outer space is a lot like my box for that reason as well. Can anyone guess why I might think this way? There is absolute limitless potential in outer space. As we have discussed before, outer space is infinite. So maybe there was no life on Venus and Mercury, and maybe we can’t live on Mars or Jupiter, but there are literally billions of worlds out there still waiting to be discovered. So as long as humans don’t become discouraged by failure, I believe that we will eventually succeed.

How would you feel if tomorrow my box was full of candy, but you didn’t bothered to look? Would you feel disappointed? Angry at yourself?

Similarly, wouldn’t it be a tragedy if there was a race of people just waiting to be discovered, but we got too tired and frustrated to keep looking? It is the limitless potential of outer space that keeps human beings looking to the stars. It is our hope, our dream, that somewhere, someone is looking back at us, hoping for the same potential.

Closure:

Today we have discussed the importance of space exploration to human beings. We talked about advances in technology that have resulted from the Space Program. Can anyone remember what some of those improvements were?

We also talked about humans’ seemingly inherent “need to know” and the potential that outer space holds for those daring enough to explore it. I believe that each of these are good reasons for us to continue exploring outer space. But some people will still disagree. There are many Americans who feel that the money we spend on space exploration would be better spent at home. And if you feel the same way, or are unsure about how you feel, I want you to know that feeling that way is okay too. I don’t expect everyone in class to agree with my opinion on space exploration. I’m always happy to see students think for themselves. All I expect is for you to justify your opinions, to defend them and provide clear evidence as to why you think you are right.

For tonight’s homework, I would like you to write three, well formulated essays about what we have discussed today. Each should be about one page long. In the first essay, I would like you to defend the argument that the development of computers as a result of the efforts of the U.S. Space Program has alone justified the expense and danger of space exploration.

In the second essay, I would like you to judge whether or not the seemingly inherent human “need to know” is appropriate justification for the U.S. Space Program. For this essay, you may disagree with what I have proposed today in class. Just be careful. If you do disagree, make sure that you explain very clearly why you disagree. I would also like you to restate my argument at the beginning of your essay before you disagree with it, so that I’m sure you understood what we talked about today in class.

For the third essay. I would like judge whether or not the possibility for future discovery in the U.S. Space Program warrants the cost and danger of future space exploration. Here again, you may disagree, but be sure to restate my argument first and be as clear as possible with your disagreements. Are there any questions?

Oh, and by the way, the box was empty. But remember, tomorrow’s another day!

Evaluation:

· Instructional Objective #1: During the unit test on Space Exploration, students will be asked to list three technological improvements that have resulted from the exploration of space.

· Instructional Objective #2: During the unit test on Space Exploration, students will be asked to list two developments in building materials that have resulted from space exploration, and how they have improved life outside the Space Program.

· Instructional Objective #3: During the unit test, students will be asked at least two ways that the Space Program improved jet fuel, and why this might be important to them as airline passengers. This question will be answered in essay form.

· Instructional Objective #4: During the unit test, students will be asked to explain how three practical improvements that benefited the Space Program have also benefited their own lives as well. The three must be different from the three the three listed in instructional objective #1. The question will be answered in essay form.

· Instructional Objective #5: Evaluate the assigned essay regarding the Space Program’s improvement of computers since the 1950′s. Criteria should include grammar, spelling, neatness, as well as accuracy and support of ideas and information. Students should have listed at least two specific improvements that were made to computers as a result of space exploration within the context of their argument. In addition, students should have thoroughly explained how these improvements changed the nature of today’s computers.

· Instructional Objective #6: Evaluate the assigned essay that judges whether or not the human’s seemingly inherent “need to know” is appropriate justification for the continued exploration of space. Criteria should include spelling, grammar, and neatness as well as accuracy and support of ideas and information. Students should have accurately re-stated the argument made in class supporting space exploration based upon human’s “need to know.” Agreement or disagreement with this argument in favor of space exploration should have been made in a clear, coherent, and well-supported argument.

· Instructional Objective #7: Evaluate the assigned essay that judges whether or not the potential of outer space is justification for its continued exploration. Criteria should include grammar, spelling, and neatness as well as accuracy and support of ideas and information. Students should have accurately re-stated the argument made in class supporting space exploration based upon its infinite potential. Agreement or disagreement with this argument in favor of space exploration should have been made in a clear, coherent, and well-supported argument.

Learning Strategies for Additional Teaching:

For students unable to fully understand the link between space exploration and technology, you could assign reading on the subject either from the textbook or supplemental materials. You could also do a more direct lesson on the subject to those students with difficulty. You could also pair off a student who failed to understand with one who did understand, and ask them to review the material together.

For students unable to fully understand the concept of “the need to know,” you could assign the student additional reading on explorers from history, then assign a paper asking why these explorers risked their lives and fortunes on the unknown. You could also give a more direct lesson on the concept of curiosity, and compare curiosity with “the need to know.” You could also ask the student to write a short story about the hidden basement or cave that were discussed in class. Ask the student to write about a character who is interested in exploring the basement or cave and ask him or her to explain why.

For students unable to fully understand the concept of potential, you could give a more direct lesson on the subject, talking about the potential in many things. You could also have the student read a story in which the protagonist struggles to realize his or her potential. You could (and should, even if every student understood the concept) wait a couple of days and then fill the box with candy (be sure to consult student medical forms for allergies prior to this). Inevitably a curious student will check the box, demonstrating to the class the persistence required in discovering potential.

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