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‘I’m reporting for Pluto’

Students track down ‘lost’ space ship via online communication

When a mission control center needed help tracking down the whereabouts of a lost space ship, Parkside Elementary students answered the call.

Communicating via Skype, student Yogi Sullivan reported to flight director Carrie Ryden, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Commander Ryden, I am reporting for (team) Saturn,” Sullivan said.

“Yes, Officer Yogi, ready to receive,” Ryden responded over the live video feed.

“It will take two days and 48 bottles of water and 10 crates,” Sullivan reported about cargo details.

“That is correct. Let’s get those numbers recorded on the chart, over,” Ryden instructed.

Within seconds, the next report arrived.

“OK, I’m reporting for Pluto,” said Payton Asher.

It’s not every day that fifth-graders in Powell discuss details about outer space and receive data from a mission control center hundreds of miles away.

The lesson was part of “Moon, Mars and Beyond!” — an e-mission through the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado. The lesson revolved around a “lost” space ship, the Distant Discovery.

Kids received data on iPads, then made the necessary calculations to send correct information back to mission control.

“Technology such as Skype and iPads are integral during the mission,” said Tara Shorb, who teaches fifth grade at Parkside, in an email. “It is really remarkable that technology has allowed our classrooms to become global learning environments.”

She said it’s great to see kids interact with flight directors in Colorado.

“It makes the scenario feel much more real for students,” Shorb said.

Fifth-grade teacher Tim Brus said kids had to rely on one another and communicate clearly, both with their teammates and the flight director. Working in teams, each student addressed a specific area: navigation, transmission or cargo.

To succeed, kids had to learn to work together, which is a powerful lesson, Shorb said.

“This fast-paced scenario certainly requires students to work effectively within their teams,” she said.

Each team represented a different planet: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. An additional team handled communications with Commander Ryden at the mission control center.

Commander Ryden and other flight directors work for Challenger Learning Center of Colorado, which facilitated the exercise for Parkside students last spring and again on Nov. 7. The center is part of a network of nearly 50 Challenger Learning Centers across North America.

Following the 1986 Challenger disaster that claimed the lives of seven astronauts, family members of the crew decided to create a living memorial. The result was Challenger Learning Centers, which help encourage students’ enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and math.

During the lessons, students also use deductive reasoning skills and learn how to solve real-world problems, Brus said.

The e-missions at Parkside Elementary were made possible through the Challenger Reach 2 U program. Under a partnership with NASA and the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado, the program reaches elementary students in rural or under-served communities.

When the Parkside students successfully completed their mission, they got to sample the ice cream astronauts eat in space.

“They’ve decided space ice cream tastes like the marshmallows in Lucky Charms,” Brus said.

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