Wednesday, 2 November 2016

A Journey into Space

Our district has been given a microgravity experiment chamber and cargo space aboard a rocket travelling to the International Space Station.  That rocket will dock with the ISS and deliver the experiment to the astronauts living in the microgravity environment.  While there, an astronaut will carry out the specific instructions of the experiment. Finally, the experiment chamber will be loaded up for transport back to earth.  Meanwhile, the same experiment will be completed back in British Columbia.  The control group and the experimental space group will be compared and the effects of microgravity on the contents of the experimental chamber will be analyzed.

Sounds fictional doesn't it.  But it is actually true!  The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) allows students to participate in a real-life science process.  And real life science is competitive.  There is one spot for which hundreds of groups compete.  And I have students who really want to have that spot.

It is an amazing opportunity!  The big question is: how do we best steward this opportunity?  How do we maximize our talents?  How do teams in my class get to be the ones who have their experiment taken to space?

If there is one thing I know from my work with Connections-based Learning, we can't do this alone.  We used the Connections-based Learning lens to guide us as we created our experiments.  The Collaborate component is not meant to be a prescription but is to be used as a guide to leverage the connected world to learn.  Each facet reminds us how making connections can be part of the learning process.  To create a great SSEP experiment, making connections must be part of the plan.

CBL Infographic by Sean Robinson and Leigh Cassell

Immediately we got down to the business of design. 

Using pages in our OneNote class notebook, students grouped up and began to brainstorm ideas about possible experiments.  What do we as a global community need to know about microgravity?  What are we curious about regarding gravity?  What even wacky ideas do we have that we could try? OneNote documents were created for groups of three students and each student would add to the document from their devices.

On another OneNote class notebook page, students were asked questions about some of the non-negotiables of their collaboration.  Goals and collaboration principles were established.


As students searched through websites to see what has gone before, some contacted groups who had previously participated in the SSEP.  Here is an excerpt from one of the students blogs:

Some connected with Simon Fraser University students to guide them as the students teased out meaningful questions to explore in a microgravity environment.  As they emailed back and forth, students were able to build ideas about possible experiments.

Students we able to attend an SSEP gathering at Heritage Woods Secondary where they made even more connections with experts.


Before the creation of an experiment could take place, students needed to develop competencies and skills in certain areas.  I had to teach some students about the effects of different acids while some needed to learn about bacteria.  We used agar plates to gather and experiment on bacteria.  Students also examined what had gone on before during the SSEP flights.  Each group studied a previous mission to glean important information to guide them in their own experiment.  In the end, the students created an experiment of their own and began to write up their proposal to submit to the SSEP committee.


Students continued to document their process.  They took pictures that they will later publish on their blogs.  They kept track of emails they sent and information that they received back from collaborators.  And as much as possible (this is a competition) they worked out loud, making connections with university students, other teachers, and the teacher librarian.  All this will be published after the competition in their digital portfolios where students, teachers, and parents can read and comment.

Soon the winning experiment will be chosen and we will find out if one of our groups will be sending an experiment into space.  Regardless of the outcome, participating in the SSEP experience was amazing and throughout the process, learning happened.  That learning will be celebrated and shared out to support future SSEP participants.  Moreover the meaningful learning relationships students made will be connections they can tap into for the future as they curate their learning network.  This is Connections-based Learning.