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Upper El (Mr. D): Asteroids, Orbits, Missions & Typing!


I love it when my lesson plans are supported by the "World," especially when it aligns without forcing it. You'll understand what I mean by the end of this post! (suspense!)

This week we continued our solar system research, learned about orbits, selected space missions for our research project, and began adding typing into our daily work.

On Monday, we started with some space news, staying up to date with the Artemis mission and the new launch date of September 27th. Then, we continued our solar system research. Students are working through questions I've outlined that define the significant objects and regions of our solar system.

Students are also working on the first draft of their stories and are encouraged to manage their time and projects in the afternoon. This means, "yes, you can work on your story, with the awareness that the solar system research is due on Thursday."

The idea is to let students keep track of their deadlines and allow them to switch tasks if that is better for them, or to work fully through one work before moving on to another. What strategies work best for each student is something they need to discover for themselves. The best way is to try and see what works. If we miss a deadline in UE, we get to discuss why we missed the deadline without the negative consequences of grades.

On Tuesday, we had a lesson on orbits and how the direction of motion relates to the force of gravity. Students had a ping pong ball attached to a ribbon, which was looped over a cork so that the ball and ribbon could revolve freely around the cork. In pairs, they were instructed to "smack" or "flick" the ping pong ball so that it revolved around the cork. In what direction is it best to hit that ball to make it revolve around the cork?

After they experimented, we put a diagram on the board and drew in some arrows according to what everyone thought was the best direction. We learned that the motion of planets and objects in orbit is "tangent" to the circle or ellipse, and gravity pulls us into a circle. Meaning if the Sun disappeared tomorrow, the Earth wouldn't fly outward directly away from the Sun, but sort of sideways or tangentially.

On Wednesday, we had an internet flop day, which disrupted some of our research, but we also now have two books in class to help with our project, and they came just in time!

Thursday, I wore my new space t-shirt from the Planetary Society. We spoke about this organization and what they do. Funding space research and missions like the Light Sail is one thing, as well as protecting Earth from Near Earth Objects (NEOs). We watched a short video about asteroids and the various ways to protect Earth from future collisions.

Now to the "universe is on my side" part of this.

That night, Thursday night, I discovered that the NASA mission, DART, is set to reach its conclusion on Monday night. DART's mission is to slam into an asteroid and deflect it off its course! Monday night, we can all watch live as DART beams back to Earth its head-on collision! I think this will be pretty amazing, and I'll make sure parents have the links if they'd like to watch live at home. A historic mission, and it's all about asteroids and deflecting NEOs.

We're definitely living in amazing times!


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