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Middle School students from The June Buchanan School recently finished a collaborative science, Spanish, Technology, and art unit entitled “Amazing Space.” During this unit, students visited the East Kentucky Science Center where they made a comet and viewed a planetarium show that allowed them to tour the Solar System.

Students especially enjoyed the culminating unit activity involving hands-on learning at the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky in Hazard. Students engaged in the mission, “Voyage to Mars,” in which they participated in a simulated space shuttle environment. Students took on the role of navigators, communicators, life support technicians, isolation, medical teams, and probe officers, both in the mission control room and in the space station.

Science instructor Karen Bailey said, “When I look back over the learning and the classroom activities that we have engaged in, I can honestly say that there is no better way to end a unit than to place students directly in a simulated environment like The Challenger Learning Center. Students have completed classroom activities, such as creating a virtual tour of the Solar System for our class wikispace. They have modeled the moon phases with Oreos, explored a model of the surface of Mars that was made out of Milky Way bars, constructed moon surface models, and so much more. They can now look back on their experiences and skills to see how relevant they are in their roles as astronauts.”

While on the “Voyage to Mars,” set in the scenario of the year being 2076 on Earth, students manned Mars Control at Chryse Station and worked with the human crew who were in their own station, orbiting Mars. During simulated crew replacement, students encountered a challenge which required them to decide as a group whether they would use their second probe to save astronauts who had landed on Mars or leave them to set up a base on Mars for an extended period of time. Using information gathered at the Navigation Station and with assistance from Challenger Center staff, the students decided to launch a second probe to save their fellow astronauts.

JBS’s trip to Mars concluded with a completed mission, a safe landing, more knowledge, and sound scientific skills.

The Middle School students at JBS prepared for the Challenger Learning Center visit through various classroom activities and in several different classrooms. During the course of the “Amazing Space” unit, students had been learning space vocabulary in Spanish and approximate sizes and appearance of planets in art courses. Spanish instructor Tamara Kunkel said, “My hope is that in collaborating with other teachers, in settings outside the classroom, the students will realize that Spanish is a useful tool in their lives. Learning a foreign language allows students to explore new worlds and meet new people that they may never have experienced without the language.” JBS art instructor Grace Henderson contributed to the project by having the students cooperatively work on planet mobiles. Students worked in groups of three to create a 3-D model that showed distinguishing features of each planet.

“In Technology, students created a class wikispace that enabled students to show the motions of rotation and revolution using animation techniques, as well as to design a virtual tour, which they uploaded to their computers via the website,” Ms. Karen Bailey explained.

Bailey went on to say, “The Challenger Learning Center employs exploratory and problem solving skills that are extremely well-executed. Every student was engaged from the moment students walked to their assigned station. The mission could not be completed successfully without the collaboration of each team member. The Center’s close proximity to our school makes it an invaluable Earth/Space resource. We are thankful for our PTO members who make our trips to the Challenger Learning Center possible.”