Tag Archives: space

TEDx: Inspiring the Astronauts of Tomorrow

So honored to be asked to share my experiences in the classroom.  Scariest thing I have done in awhile but strangely want to do it again!


Student Experiments in Space


High altitude balloon launch from September 2016

What if I told you that my middle school students launched two experiments to space this summer.  No engineering degree or NASA credentials required!  If you are teacher, and dream about going to space,  this is a pretty cool accomplishment! I helped make this happen by participating in a very unique program called Cubes in Space.

cubes in space

The Cubes in Space program is a free, no-cost opportunity to design experiments to be launching into space on a NASA rocket or high-altitude balloon.  This is a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) based global education program, enabling kids to learn about space exploration utilizing innovative problem-solving, inquiry-based learning methods.  By participating in this program, students and educators are provided with engaging content and activities in preparation for the design and development of an experiment to be integrated into a small cube.

Teachers sign up for the program between late September and early January.  They then have access to a wealth of curriculum divided into four phases.  Each phase coaches the teacher and their students along from inquiry to research to proposal.  Every activity within a phase has a purpose, for example the below screen shot is from the first activity where students are encouraged to brainstorm questions they have of the program.   Activity A screenshot

Brainstorming questions is a necessary first step in the design thinking process.  The students will discover the answers as the curriculum develops.


Students use time to research topics such as forces of flight and structural make-up of the material they want to test.

Phase 2 and 3  introduce the rocket and high-altitude balloon logistics and how they are used as vehicles for flight within the program.  Students learn about quantitative versus qualitative data, manipulated variables, interpretation of graphics, the definition of a payload and the limitations experienced in the program. temperature and pressure diagram

payload rocket

In the final phase, students begin to write their proposals.  This is a daunting task and students learn first-hand how much time and research is involved when designing an experiment worthy of flight.


Students CAD a container and 3-D print it to contain their experiment during flight.



Students make the necessary measurements before submission.


Careful calculations are made to stay within guidelines.


Control experiments are preformed and recorded for comparison after launch.



Size of cube that fits the experiment.

There is always a risk that your students will not be selected; I warned my students of this.  Fortunately we were selected for both the sounding rocket and the high altitude balloon launches.  Payloads are returned rather quickly after flight and analysis begins.  This program brings real-world experiential science to the classroom.  My students felt a sense of accomplishment from all of their hard work and now had something amazing to brag about.  Fingers crossed for the 2017 group!

For more information on the Cubes in Space program visit www.cubesinspace.com

Thanks for reading!


Sounding rocket launch from June 2016


Mass versus Weight: A unique STEM approach

I regularly incorporate NASA activities into my physical science curriculum.  In this post, I cover how I introduced a NASA lesson on  Mass vs. Weight into my classroom.  This particular lesson can be found on the NASA education page.  While this post will focus on physical science, the lesson could be easily incorporated into other disciplines.

Students commonly misuse the terms “mass” and “weight”.   The principal objective of the lesson is for students to properly define and explain the difference between the two concepts.

KEY CONCEPT: Mass is the amount of matter in an object and weight is a force due to the gravitational pull on an object.  Mass is constant despite exposure to gravity, while weight is a measurement of force upon an object based on gravitational pull.  This difference is often difficult for students to grasp because they have a singular experience–gravity on planet Earth.

The activity, Mass versus Weight (on the NASA website), explores the concepts of mass, weight, forces, Newton’s Laws, gravity  and micro-gravity across four lessons.

In the first lesson plan, students are introduced to three astronauts through reading exercises and video and provided and overview of concept.  My students felt connected to the astronauts and enjoyed watching the videos that explained the experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) and how the micro-gravity changed the behavior of the activity.

The first activity, Stretching Mass, required students to record mass and volume and observe the gravitational pull on a full versus empty Capri-Sun juice pouch. Predictions were made regarding the result of the same test conducted in  a micro-gravity environment.  Following their predictions, students watched videos shot on the ISS in which the astronauts carried out the same experiment.   The students enjoyed seeing the changes and verifying their predictions.IMG_7605video of astonaut 2
In this picture, Nicole Passonno Stott (NASA astronaut) performs the same experiment with Capri-Sun juice pouches in space.

In the second activity, Air-Powered Mass,  students created paper containers to hold pennies (change in mass).  A series of straws were placed horizontally in a line below the box to create a roller belt.  A balloon pump was used to force burst of air against the container and propel is over the straw rollers. The experiment was repeated with additional pennies (increase in mass) added between each set.  Students recorded the mass and distance traveled during each set.  Instructor-led presentations covered mass, momentum, Newton’s laws of motion and forces using the experiment as  a case study.IMG_7610
TIP:  Keep the type of air pump consistent for each group.  I used two different air pumps and one didn’t push air out as consistently as the other.FullSizeRender
Students were prompted to make predictions how this same activity would work in a micro-gravity environment, then watched video of two astronauts preforming the experiment.
video of astronaut pictures
Here Robert Brent Thirsk and Koichi Wakata perform the experiment with a large air gun.  Students observed that the air pushed on the container the same way.  Due to a lesser gravitational pull, the object stayed in motion and did not stop.

The series continues with a lesson on Accelerating Mass and an activity,  Designing Your Own Experiment.   I was unable to fit this lesson in due to time constraints.  I did not find the omission of this lesson as a detriment.  My students demonstrated an understanding of the concepts, mass versus weight, and had an early introduction to Newton’s laws and forces.

Stay tuned for my next post on how I incorporated NASA’s Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) engineering design challenge activity into my curriculum at the end of my elements/compounds/mixtures chapter.  My students loved it so much they wanted to do it again!!


Day 4 Log: Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy


Day 4: Log

Another incredible day!  We started with an activity that I really want to use in my own classroom.  It is called the Thermal Design Challenge.  Our task was to explore how heat is transferred, examine how NASA’s previous Thermal Protection Systems protected spacecraft and build an ablative shield to protect our “egg-stronaut” from the heat of a mock “re-entry”.  The idea behind an ablative shield is that the outer surface turns white hot, chars, and flakes away taking the heat with it.  The challenge involved protecting an egg from white-hot temperatures.  Each team needed to stay below the 100 credit max.  Each type of material (ex: cotton balls, large steel, pasta, spackle, cork, aluminum foil, paper) was priced out.  We needed to brainstorm, draw a design, and keep the model no wider than a pencil.  Here is a picture of our set-up. You will have to watch the video to see if it worked!
IMG_5604 IMG_5607

What I really liked about this activity was that even though our shield was an epic fail, I wanted to do it again; I wanted to improve our design. I think students may have a similar mindset and if I can allow enough time in my schedule, I would let them try again. What an amazing activity that shows true engineering at work!

After that competitive activity, we jumped right into our second mission of the week.  This time we were headed to moon in the year 2055.  A Shackleton control center as well as the Rising Star research station were habitable but the research station Aurora was in need of repair (broken windows and fire with the circuitry).  Six members of team Harmony were in the Operations control center, two members piloted the Orion spacecraft that was orbiting the moon, four took the spacecraft, Altair, to the moon’s surface to relieve the two astronauts in the Rising Star research station.  Those two astronauts could switch places and head back to the orbiting Orion via Altair.  Complicated, I know.IMG_5623

I had a different job this time compared to our first mission.  This time I was a lunar specialist in the Rising Star station. This was a lot of fun.  IMG_5626



I started the mission by performing some pre-EVA medical evaluations like real astronauts do before their EVA’s (Extra Vehicular Activity or “space walk”).  I needed to take my temperature, pulse and blood pressure before I got suited up.


After our pre-assessment, we ventured outside Rising Star to check oxygen and nitrogen tanks.  If they were too low, we needed to change them by unscrewing the hoses from the tanks and replacing them.  We also needed to check the batteries and wires, and replaced where needed.  Last, we needed to obtain a USB from a rover that was taking pictures along the surface.


Replacing O2 andN2 tanks



Checking batteries and wiring for possible damage.

IMG_5652 IMG_5653






Our last task, before Orion brought the new team in, was to build a solar panel system.  This was so awesome.  We were hooked up to a ballast that filled with water to counteract our weight.  One little push and I was sailing towards the top of the tower.  Unfortunately, I did not get video but you can imagine from the pictures.


Notice the “solar panals” on the bottom left that I already assembled.

IMG_5666 IMG_5668

A swap out with the new crew, led us to Altair and off of the moon to the orbiting Orion. This activity, again, was heavy on the teamwork.  The relief crew was late so when we boarded the Altair capsule, we were behind on the clock.  I panicked a little because we lost our ability to connect with Orion, but it worked out in the end.  Again, a strong reminder that it takes a team to make any of these missions happen.


Team Harmony at the end of the second mission.

After lunch we ventured to another activity called “X-Prize”. The “real” Google Lunar X-Prize was started in 2007.  The first privately-funded team to send a robot to the moon wins $20,000,000!  In order to win, the team must: successfully launch, land on the moon, rove 500 meters, and then transmit back images and video.  WE DIDN’T DO THIS COMPETITION!

Ours was titled, Payload Operations L.U.N.A.R. (Landing Unique Navigable, Astronaut-Driven Rovers).  Our objective was the get our payload (which was our “egg-stronaut”) to land as close as possible to a target from high up without damaging the rovers function and then travel down a ramp to mimic driving on the planet.  A credit limit of 100 credits was set.  Chosen materials were categorized based on how many credits they were assigned. IMG_5687 IMG_5688



Rover construction


Lander construction

Team Harmony blew everyone else out of the water in this activity. We were on cloud 9!!

The last activity I will discuss happened on Day 5 but I am going to leave that blog post to graduation and reflections!

The final activity was called ECLSS (Environmental Control and Life Support Systems). The task was to mimic what happens aboard the ISS. Water and Oxygen need to be pumped back into the system, while CO2 and other waste products need to get pulled out.ECLSS

Our task was to take (what looked like) urine and create a filtration system to obtain pure water that was drinkable. It needed to end with a pH of 7, be low on conductivity and be an efficient system meaning it needed to reclaim a lot of that liquid in milliliters! As usual, this activity had a credit budget and items (such as ammonium chips, lima beans, empty water bottle, plastic funnel, charcoal, cheesecloth, coffee filter, sand, gravel) were assigned a certain amount of credits. To take it even further, you could add a clarity scale. Here are some pictures of set up and a video of a good filtration system, and then I will discuss ours.IMG_5733




This activity was a great learning experience and I definitely want to do this in my classroom for a mixtures unit. Not having a good experience (by the way our “urine” turned black because we messed up and dumped some charcoal into our sample, don’t ask!) was ok. We learned from our mistakes and wanted to do it again, something I hope my students would say to. Understanding this environmental system helps students see that it’s pretty dangerous on the ISS and if anything goes wrong, it could lead to death.

Stay tuned for my final reflection on Day 5!  We graduated and I will be taking so much home from this program!

Thanks for reading,


Day 1 Log: Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy


Honeywell Educators at the Space Academy #HESA2015

Day 1 Log

Incredible is an understatement.  I am pinching myself…..how did I get here?  The day started with information on our jam packed one-week agenda.  We received space suits the night before along with a bunch of other Honeywell “swag”! Introductions of the staff were made along with assignments of teams, each named after an ISS module.  Our team name: HARMONY.


Basically take advantage of every opportunity offered here!


Our first presenter, Ed Buckbee @RealSpaceCowboy has been a part of the U.S. space program for four decades.  He started in 1959 when America’s first Mercury astronauts were selected and attended launches of Alan Sheppard and John Glenn.  He was present for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.IMG_5254

As a NASA public affairs officer, Buckbee worked for rocket scientist Wernher von Braun at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.  In 1970, he founded the highly successful U.S. Space Camp and Aviation Challenge programs.  IMG_5263

His book, The Real Space Cowboys, touches on the lives of the early astronauts and the time in history where the  “race to the moon” was a hot topic.  Buckbee showed us a lot of really neat old videos, many from the moon landings.  Twelve U.S astronauts have walked on the moon and there have been 8 landings of rovers and probes on Mars.  Nine-hundred astronauts have been launched in space in the past 5 decades.  The space history that I learned today and once I read Mr. Buckbee’s book will only enhance the way I present the different projects I plan to implement this year.  Students need to know the “why” and the “how”.  I like the idea of incorporating history lessons into my units as a cross-curricular project.


The afternoon sessions were very exciting!  After lunch we had a presentation on flight hardware and engine components.  I found it fascinating to learn the anatomy of a rocket with capsules for the crew, payloads and fuel.  One of the main things that I will take away from this 1-hour session is the information provided about solid, liquid and hypergolic (mixed) fuel.  I can see myself adapting this information into a demonstration for my phase change unit at the beginning of the year or exothermic reaction unit later in chemistry.

This first video demonstrates a solid propellant.  Solid propellants give off a lot of energy and therefore a lot of thrust for a rocket but you cannot control this reaction.

This next video demonstrates a liquid propellant.  Liquid propellants give off less energy than solid propellants but you can control how much liquid is released.

This last video demonstrates a hypergolic propellant which is unique because it does not need an igniter, just an interaction between the reactants to start the reaction.  You would think this type of reaction would be the best out of three but hypergolic propellants are difficult to handle and are extremely toxic.

Our final presenter of the day was Astronaut Robert (Hoot) Gibson.  As a former Navy pilot and trained aeronautical engineer, “Hoot” led 5 shuttle missions, 1 as pilot and 4 as commander.  One of his “firsts” in space was docking the Atlantis shuttle at the Russian space station, MIR.IMG_5311[1]

I learned a great deal from his talk that I will take back into my classroom. It takes the shuttle 8.5 minutes to enter orbit travelling around 17,500 mph.IMG_5296[1]

Astronauts in the shuttle complete an orbit every 90 minutes so 45 minutes of sunlight for recharging batteries and 45 minutes of darkness.


Photo taken over Greenland


Night views over the Nile River delta and northern Africa.


Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)

This was my first time meeting an astronaut. I asked him about medical issues that one may experience after completing a mission in space.  He said that your first problem in zero G’s is the fluids in your body.  Your face may swell and your sinuses will act up.  You tend to lose 8 pounds in zero G’s and your body stretches (no pressure on your vertebrae).  For longer stays on the ISS for example, you can potentially lose .5 to 1.5% of your bone calcium.  Some astronauts have to go through rehabilitation because of brittle bones.  You can also experience critical back muscle loss that could be a serious issue.  This information is important to relay back to students.  Class discussions could evolve into, “why would one want to put their health at risk?” or “what would happen if we do make it to Mars?”


Astronaut Robert Gibson

Overall, my day was packed full of excitement and learning.  Tomorrow our team will participate in a low ropes course, aviation challenge water survival and a mission training.  Stay tuned!!!

Thanks for reading!


Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy

Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy




Next week, I will be partaking in an adventure of a lifetime.

It all started last Fall when I was selected as a 2015 Honeywell Corporation scholarship recipient.  This program sends over 200 middle school math and science teachers from all over the world to the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) in Huntsville, Al. for a week-long intense training in STEM curriculum and astronaut simulations!

I am gearing up for this incredible experience which I will document on this blog.  I just registered with the University of Alabama to complete a three-credit hour course on Space Orientation for Educators as a follow up of the week at USSRC.  I’m getting my packing list in order and my kids ready to go to grandma’s house!  Follow #HESA2015 to read up on the events of the week!

This year, Honeywell Educators at the Space Academy (HESA) is welcoming 205 educators from 24 countries this summer. See where they are from!



Learn more about this ‘game-changing’ experience for math and science teachers!

Can’t wait for this incredible experience!!  Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading,