SPACE QUEST - First Meeting

We always intend to blog about our STEAM into Action programs but we get bogged down in planning and managing and lose track of the time.  So for 2015 we are going to try to get something down to track these projects as they develop.

February 23rd was the first meeting of our Space Quest project with the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Butler County pairs that meet after school at Kramer Elementary in Oxford, OH. The kids are 2 - 5th grade and the bigs are all university students.  Our goal for this project is to impart some basic knowledge about solar systems.  I have the assistance of two Miami University physics students, Kelsey and Ben, to teach the kids about the various solar bodies we might happen upon in a solar system - stars, planets, moons, asteroids, etc. - and how the mass of these objects effects their gravitational pull and how that effects orbits.  

Our project is to design our own solar system.  Each child will decide what solar body they want to be in this new system, investigate what that will look like through some experimentation with play-dohs, create a 2-D version and place it in the system, then build a 3-D representation using papier mache.  Once each child has created their unique papier mache "planet on a stick" they will demonstrate the dynamic interaction of all the solar bodies in their new system at the Oxford Kinetics Festival on April 19th.

Ryan and his four planets with their respective moons.

Ryan and his four planets with their respective moons.

Since this is an informal, after school program involving kids of various grade levels, there is a stronger emphasis on the creative making and less stress on the academics.  We are planning a more academically rigorous version of the Space Quest project to be implemented in a fifth grade classroom for the 2015 - 2016 school year.

The first meeting went really well.  We did a shadow puppet theater project with this group last year and many of the same kids were back and remembered me and were excited to see what we were going to be doing.  Kelsey and Ben gave a 10 minute primer on solar systems.  We brought in a large variety of round objects of varying sizes to talk about what would orbit what.  We passed out marbles, ping pong balls, hacky sacks, balls and balloons and I had one giant 36"+ diameter balloon which represented our sun.  Then we passed out tons of play doh and asked kids to make anything they wanted that they might find in a solar system.  Things were a little slow to get going until I mentioned that they were encouraged to mix the play doh colors to make interesting surface compositions and then everyone got excited.  Even the college students were thrilled to be told they could mix their colors!  The results were great with some kids making multiple planets of different compositions, some using the marbles as cores for their  planets, some using them as moons.  I think we are off to a good start.

Kaylen's planetary system.