Astronomy.com, Science News, Our Solar System, May 4, 2001 Listen to the kids
by Paul Morledge. Teenage students using a huge radio telescope will report to NASA what they've discovered about Jupiter's radiation belts.
A Path to Scientific Discovery
The authors describe a scientific endeavor that excites students and
changes their thought processes as they embark on a journey of
by Kelly A. Bollman, Mark H. Rodgers, & Robert L. Mauller
ALL SCIENCE teachers want to convey to students the true meaning of the scientific endeavor. We want them not just to understand science, but also to feel some part of the exhilaration that comes with scientific discovery. But there remains a significant difference between even advanced science classrooms and professional science. For students to get a taste of the world of professional science, they must have access to the scientific community and be given the chance to be real scientists.
The Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) Project began as a proposal from two educators at the Lewis Center for Educational Research (then called the Apple Valley Science & Technology Center) in Apple Valley, California, to allow students in middle and high schools to experience science using a 34-meter radio antenna located at Goldstone (California) facility of NASA's Deep Space Network. The dish had already been scheduled to be decommissioned. This idea has given rise to a partnership involving NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Lewis Center for Educational Research. Today, the project has one complete curriculum package, called Jupiter Quest, and a number of others under development. The new curriculum packages will focus on the sun/Earth relationship, the birth of new stars in our galaxy, and the mapping of radio sources on the galactic plane. The goal of all these curriculum packages is to allow students to step briefly into the world of professional research scientists and to experience the process of discovery.
The Jupiter Quest curriculum concerns a hypothetical space mission to the Jovian system. Students work in teams to study Jupiter and its four largest moons. They perform experiments to understand science concepts that may be new to them, they observe Jupiter with the radio antenna, and they scrutinize data collected during observations. Then the students select Jupiter itself or one of its larger moons for further study and as a destination for a hypothetical manned or unmanned mission. They must consider environment, planetary geology, gravity, time, nutrition, and health concerns. In the process, they learn the importance of asking such questions as "What further information is needed?" and "How do scientific teams plan missions to collect specific types of information?" Depending on the focus of each class, students may investigate one or a few areas in depth while just touching on others. Skills in scientific reasoning, in the presentation of evidence, and in effective communication are stressed, while students learn the value of peer review and how research scientists discover, verify, and share information and ideas.
Jupiter Quest, which partners middle schools and high schools nationwide with Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Lewis Center for Educational Research, engages students in the process of scientific discovery while helping teachers provide a standards-based course of study. At the close of the 1999-2000 school year, 58 teachers in 36 schools in nine states had been trained to use Jupiter Quest. This project gives students a chance to become part of a team whose members truly depend on one another. It gives them a chance to collect and process real-world scientific data, using state-of-the-art equipment and software, and to contribute that information to the scientific community. Because Jupiter Quest is a real investigation, not a simulation in which nothing ever goes wrong, students must learn to anticipate likely problems and to handle those that cannot be anticipated as they arise.
After the data from the antenna have been collected and analyzed, they are posted on a special Internet site along with other Jupiter data collected by other radio antennas or arrays of antennas, and a long-term picture of Jupiter's radio emissions emerges. Unlike the laboratory experiments with known outcomes that students generally experience in the science classroom, Jupiter Quest gives them the chance to observe unexpected events as they occur and to become part of actual scientific discovery. The project is an open-ended, ongoing observation effort in which students play a very real role.
A Unique Science Experience
Jupiter Quest is unique in a number of ways. The project provides opportunities to students that are unlike those of the traditional science classroom. It brings technology to the school in a way that is broad and varied and goes beyond typing, Internet searches, and simulations. It also brings teachers together across state lines and various cultures and allows them to share in discussions of new curriculum, best practices, problem solving, and the excitement of science. Those of us who have participated in the project over time feel that it has brought us a better understanding of what science is outside the classroom and reminded us of the scientific journey - the path of discovery.
We mentioned that students work on the project collaboratively, and collaboration is a part of many science classrooms. But the most common form of collaboration involves having students work with lab partners or as part of a lab group, in which the students complete the procedure and collect data as a "team". Certainly, working together is something that students must learn to do, but the test of real collaboration is whether a student actually needs and relies on the contributions of other members of the group. Most students in most science classes will admit that they could have done their projects on their own. Jupiter Quest pushes past these issues with a project that is truly collaborative.
The Jupiter Quest team, which consists of students, teachers, technicians, and scientists, works together to collect, analyze, and distribute data in a process in which team members must depend on one another. The telescope that gathers the raw data may be thousands of miles away from the classroom and is prepared and maintained by a group of technicians at Goldstone. The remote link to the telescope is established by technicians at the Lewis Center's Mission Control in Apple Valley and is then handed over to students. The students then send commands to the telescope and collect the data.
Moreover, this is not a lab experiment that can be dumped down the sink and done over after school if things don't go well. This is real. Jupiter sets for the day, and another school is scheduled to use the antenna the next day. The team has to work together, or nothing gets done. It is a remarkably valuable aspect of the Jupiter Quest experience when students realize their vital role as members of the project team. It fosters a sense of seriousness about the process and engenders a sense of ownership of an academic activity that is rarely seen among middle and high school students.
Another layer of collaboration involving the Jupiter Quest teams occurs within the classroom as the curriculum project models the scientific community. Each student has a specific function, which provides vital information to his or her group and enables the group to decide which location in the Jovian system will be most useful for further research or a potential mission. Each student takes on the role of a specific type of scientist: an engineer, a group leader, or a life-support specialist. Each is assigned to collect information and communicate findings and implications to the group as a whole. What's more, each student has a responsibility to look at the data presented and help make a group decision. We have seen the students make arguments based on evidence and critically weigh which pieces of evidence seem more important. If a student with a particular job function fails to find enough relevant information or overlooks critical evidence, the impact on the team is significant.
The effect of this kind of interaction on the classroom is astounding. We have seen students who had previously been disengaged became more animated and involved in the decision-making process. Because each student needs to communicate critical information to his or her group, it is very difficult for any student to remain unmotivated or to hide within a group. Knowing that everyone has a significant contribution to make, the students rise to the occasion to do their parts well. Other teachers participating in the project, from California to Alabama to Michigan, have told us that students who had previously seemed uninterested in science came alive during this project and showed much greater interest and participation.
Not only do the students have a noticeable response to the curriculum format and activities, but teachers also find aspects of the program invigorating to their own teaching and learning. Teachers who participate in Jupiter Quest undergo a six-day training session that addresses basic radio astronomy, procedures for using the antenna, applications of technology in the classroom, and curriculum development and integration. Teachers need only a working knowledge of computers and a willingness to learn. The training interweaves technology experiences; resources in the form of manuals, software, and Internet sites; experience with specific curriculum lessons; opportunities to collaborate with other educators from across the country; and activities that help integrate the project into each individual teacher's classroom.
The project is tailored to every individual classroom because the materials can be integrated into the existing scope-and-sequence guidelines adopted by each school. The basic queries in Jupiter Quest provide the underlying theme and purpose, while the activities that may be selected vary widely. Depending on the focus of the science classroom, a teacher can choose from a selection of lessons in the areas of life science, physical science, or earth and space science. Teachers select the lessons that best fit their classroom curriculum and map out an individual unit plan that incorporates the quest question, the online antenna experience, data analysis, and the lessons appropriate for the classroom agenda.
The project can run for as little as two to three weeks or can extend for an entire quarter of the school year, depending on the applicability of the material to the specific class. This ensures that the project is part of the main curriculum and that it facilitates the teacher's goals. Some middle schools have approached the project as a grade-level, integrated thematic unit with applications in mathematics, language arts, fine arts, and social studies. Lessons developed for cross-curricular applications have been included in the program materials.
Technology experience varies from teacher to teacher and among students. One goal of the project is to make sure that the teachers and students are comfortable with the technology required to be successful in the project. These technologies include e-mail systems, file transfer protocol sites, the XWindows software that is used to share graphic screens while running the antenna, the use of spreadsheets for calculation and graphing features, and sending, receiving, and using of graphic files for teaching and presentations. In this way, the project provides a natural use for many technological skills and enhances teacher and student knowledge of applications of technology both within and outside the classroom.
After the initial training, support is available through the Lewis Center for Educational Research for getting connected with the software, planning observation sessions, and implementing the curriculum. Establishing a good connection to each school is as individualized a process as developing that school's use of the curriculum. The Lewis Center is committed to supporting the participants and ironing out any technological snags that threaten the project's success for both teachers and students. Teachers can also communicate with other teachers who have implemented the program and learn how they handled specific problems, and students can communicate with their peers and with the scientists involved in the project. The Jupiter Quest is truly distance education in action.
The Jupiter Quest in the Classroom
The GAVRT antenna, also called Deep Space Station 12 (DSS-12), sits in the Mojave Desert among the telescopes of the Goldstone facility, one of three facilities that make up NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN). The DSN is used for radio astronomy, radar astronomy, and communication with deep space probes. DSS-12 is a giant parabolic collecting dish, 34 meters in diameter, that collects radio energy emitted from Jupiter by natural processes and can be controlled remotely from the Mission Control computer at the Lewis Center.
Engineers and astronomers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed special software that gives students real-time control of the antenna via the Internet from a classroom computer. Data are collected and calibrated by students, then included in the professional scientific database of Jupiter observations. The technology required to deliver this capability to the classroom is accessible for most schools. Each participating classroom needs one personal computer that has at least a Pentium I processor; a connection to the Internet that provides at least 112 K of unshared bandwidth, and a telephone. For schools, the limiting factor is generally the access to sufficient Internet bandwidth.
Data are collected manually by students in the classroom and automatically by the Mission Control computer. Data collected manually in the classroom are actually a representative sampling of the data before they are corrected for such phenomena as sagging of the antenna dish at various observation angles and the thickness of atmosphere at the time of the observation. Data collected by the Mission Control computer are analyzed by technicians at the Lewis Center for Educational Research and by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and placed on a special Internet site, where they can be retrieved by any teacher in the project. The computer data can then be analyzed further or compared to manually collected data in a series of lessons created by teachers during the development stages of Jupiter Quest.
Data collected during a typical observation give the students two types of information. At 8480 MHz, students find that the atmospheric temperature of Jupiter is approximately 210°K. Students can convert this temperature to Celsius and then to Fahrenheit to gain a better understanding of what this means for humans. At 2295 MHz, students see the fluctuations in the brightness of the planet's synchrotron radiation. (Synchrotron radiation is a nonthermal radiation that results when electrons are caught in Jupiter's magnetic field and then spiral up and down the magnetic field at nearly the speed of light, a process that releases photons.) These two types of data are incorporated into the hypothetical mission that students plan.
Let's look at a hypothetical mission to the Jovian system in a specific classroom. Middle-schoolers at University Public School in Detroit used data collected during their observation sessions to create a more complete picture of what the Jovian system is like. The students were pursuing the question of what location within the Jovian system might be the best selection for onsite study, manned or unmanned. Understanding that Jupiter itself is a gaseous planet and not a likely location for a surface landing, the students focused on its four largest moons. They compared the features of the individual moons and assessed what aspects of each might be beneficial to the mission and which would pose challenges to the safety of the lander and its equipment. They were, in effect, weighing the pros and cons of each location, based upon evidence that they were able to discover about each moon.
Data from the antenna experiments gave the students some insight into the effects that such a strong magnetosphere and the resulting synchrotron radiation might have on nearby moons, spacecraft equipment, and, ultimately on human beings. They asked questions about what type of material might withstand the radiation best. Would it be a metal? A new composite material? Or something else? This line of questioning led the class to contact a local materials scientist to see what they could find out about new composite materials. While these discussions were scientifically limited by the level of understanding of middle-schoolers, they nonetheless opened up a world of questions that students were excited about and able to pursue to the extent of their individual abilities. From a teachers perspective, this was very exciting because the students were not intimidated by the information, and they even became comfortable with the answer "We don't know that yet."
As science teachers, our aim must be more than simply exposing our students to scientific information. Our goal should be to expose them to the scientific process and the excitement of discovery. The scientific process requires the ability to think like a scientist: to ask good questions, to consider all possibilities, to refuse to be thwarted when the data are problematic, and to continue to explore until an answer is found.
In the Jupiter Quest, we have seen the excitement in students' faces - from the middle school through high school and across cultural and economic lines. And we have seen clear changes in their thought processes. Science is a journey of discovery that our students do not usually take because they do not even know that there is a journey to be taken. Through the Jupiter Quest, students and teachers not only gain access to a very sophisticated scientific instrument, but they also take their first steps on the path to discovery.
KELLY A. BOLLMAN
taught middle-grade science from 1994 to 1998 at Wayne State University's University Public School in Detroit, and she has participated in the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) Project since 1997. She currently serves with the Lewis Center for Educational Research from her home in Lavonia, Michigan as a curriculum developer for the GAVRT Project.
MARK H. RODGERS
taught physics, chemistry, and general science at Glendora High School, Glendora, California, from 1992 through 2000. He is currently an assistant principal at Ramona Middle School, La Verne, California. He has participated in the GAVRT Project since 1998 as a curriculum and technology consultant.
ROBERT L. MAULLER
is a retired educator, a GAVRT volunteer, and a Kappan Core member who lives in Pasadena, California.
For additional information http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/ktoc0105.htm