Building a Paper Model of the Advanced Composition Explorer: A Model of Spacecraft Design and Implementation for Middle and High School Science Students
J.A. Heirtzler, E. Möbius, M. Popecki
University of New Hampshire Experimental Space Plasma Group
Morse Hall, Durham, NH 03824
Sunapee Middle High School
10 North Rd. Sunapee, NH 03782
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
11100 Johns Hopkins Road
Laurel, MD 20723-6099
In the interest of creating a project for middle school grades that is both concrete and engaging, we offer this cut-and-paste paper model of the ACE satellite as the focal point of a general science lesson plan. This lesson touches upon three key educational areas: important scientific concepts, including the study of the sun, the solar system, and the galaxy itself; the manner in which science is carried out, with its myriad interactions between various institutions and individuals; and the ideas of scale and proportion in mathematics. The model and lesson plan are available for download from the UNH Experimental Space Plasma Group website, and can then be printed by the educator. Small groups of students (2-4 per group) will study and build individual instruments from the ACE spacecraft; present their findings to the class; and then the spacecraft itself will be assembled. Students will be assessed on their presentation of information gathered about the instrument they assembled and on the quality of their collaboration; the educator may also wish to quiz the class on their understanding of the scientific method and the science behind the ACE mission. This is a project of UNH's outreach efforts for the ACE spacecraft.
The lesson plan was field-tested in the science classroom of B. Baker at Sunapee Middle High School during the week of March 8-12. Two eighth-grade classes, consisting of 18-19 students each, spent the first three days learning about the ace mission and the instruments on board the spacecraft, and the final two days constructing the model, and presenting their findings to the class. Research was conducted via the World Wide Web, through the project websites for each instrument. Due to technical difficulties, one of the classes assembled the 1/16 scale model, while the other assembled the 1/8 scale model. J. Heirtzler was present on the last day, to aid the students in the final assembly of the model, to speak about the process of building the actual ace spacecraft, and to answer the students` questions. Students were evaluated on their presentation of information they had gathered on their instrument; the quality of their collaboration, which was self-assessed; and their model pieces. Students were then asked to complete a follow-up survey.
As assessed by the students` in-class reactions to the project, and their answers to the survey, this lesson plan was successful in its objectives. The students enjoyed assembling the model (Figure 1), and, through their responses, demonstrated that they had fulfilled the primary goals of the lesson (Figure 2). However, several flaws in the lesson were encountered (Figure 3): the students had a difficult time understanding the information on the project websites, as these sites are aimed at a more specialized audience. In the future, a student version of this information will be available on the UNH site. As concerned the scale of the model, it was clear that the 1/8 scale model was much easier for the students to assemble, as many comments from Class 2, which had the 1/16 scale model, dwell on the size of the parts. The assembly directions were also found to be somewhat difficult for the students to follow, as some of the instruments, particularly SWEPAM and SWICS, are quite small and complex. The directions are being re-written, based on comments from the students, and the more difficult instruments will be made available in simpler forms. Figure 4 indicates the self-assessed level of effort students put into the project. In the future, a response form for teachers to evaluate the lesson plan will also be available at the UNH website.
Figure 1: What worked well in this project? Figure 3: What could be improved? Figure 2: What did you learn from this project? Figure 4: How much effort did you put into this project?
Jan Heirtzler would like to thank:
- Dr. Eberhard Möbius for allowing her to work on this project, which was a great deal of fun to put together;
- Dr.Cliff Willey for his kind and patient response to her requests for pictures and schematics of the spacecraft, as well as the 8x10 color glossies of the launch which he provided;
- Brent Baker for providing his time and energy in the various stages of putting together the lesson plan, and for being the voice of educational experience in the endevor;
- Mr. Baker's eighth-grade science classes, for their enthusiasm and willingness to be the guinea pigs in the field test, and for their many helpful comments, without which the lesson plan would be far less complete;
- David Heirtzler, for putting up with little scraps of paper all over the living room while Jan attempted to build the (many) models which would come out of the project, and for all of the thousands of other things he does everyday.