2nd Grade Future Astronauts Blast Off to Outer Space
There was a buzz of excitement in the 2nd Grade classrooms as students began their next unit of inquiry on outer space. First, students reflected on their prior knowledge by writing and drawing what they already knew about the solar system, and then, they moved on to their space adventures! “This is the best unit for 2nd Graders!” says Paulina Bemporad, 2nd Grade English Teacher. “We tap into the wonder and imagination for space exploration, investigating our Solar System as we integrate science, math, physics, language, literacy, and social studies.”
Students’ first adventure was launching NASA’s Mission to Mars Student Challenge. For this challenge, students needed to think like engineers and scientists to design their own spacecraft, rocket, rover, orbiter, or lander. They began by asking themselves what they already knew about Mars and then investigated how they could explore Mars and how they would choose a landing site. Students examined the characteristics of the planet, temperature, climate, atmosphere, and weather to determine their own design. They also learned about the mechanics necessary for such a mission. Every week, 2nd Graders participated in the challenge with students from all over the globe, as they designed, tested, and retested their creations. Along the way, students met with NASA experts and joined for a Livestream Q&A as they designed and built their own mission to Mars.
The challenge culminated on February 18th, when students landed their own missions along with the successful landing of Perseverance Mars Rover. Students and teachers watched NASA’s Livestream and celebrated when Perseverance landed safely. The classes were thrilled to take part in this historic moment in space exploration as they watched the six-wheeled rover land in the Jezero Crater after nearly 300 million miles of travel through the harrowing final phase of entry, descent, and landing. Students were amazed by the biggest, heaviest, cleanest, and most sophisticated robotic geologist ever launched into space! During this historic landing, students also presented their own creative rocket and rover designs, built from legos, paper, cardboard, containers, recycled materials, and more.
To investigate further, students took a virtual field trip to the American Museum of Natural History to see human-made and interstellar debris with AMNH Astrophysicist Jackie Faherty and Pilot Deion Desir. They were able to see a variety of satellites and other intriguing objects beyond our solar system. The 2nd Graders joined AMNH’s Space Junk Livestream to learn more about what is happening around the Earth. Students observed views of the nighttime sky as satellites orbited Earth, and learned that the USA has more satellites in space than any other country. The students developed many questions throughout their space exploration, such as “What is orbiting around us?” and “Do satellites pose a threat to us or to space travel?”
Every week, 2nd Graders participated in “story time from space,” during which astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) read stories and led science experiments for our students on Earth. Students could see amazing views from the ISS’s cupola observation deck during this stellar story time!
Students also participated in the Annual Space Foundation International Student Art Contest. In preparation for the art contest, students discussed what space technology is and how it can improve our lives, considering the impact of scientific and technological advances on society. The topic of the contest, how space technology helps improve life on Earth, was very much aligned with what students had been learning about in the classroom.
Students then dove into group research on planets, astronauts, spacecrafts, and significant monumental people who have made contributions to the advancement of astronomy. Teachers were very impressed with students’ enthusiasm, creativity, and initiative as they developed their own projects and posters to share what they had discovered with their peers. Questions and inquiries continued to explode as they shared their discoveries with each other.
Students shared their research about Saturn.
Students presented on Katherine Johnson, one of the first African American women to work as a NASA scientist, whose research was integral to determining paths for spacecrafts to orbit Earth and to land on the Moon.
With the classroom enthusiasm taking off, students came together to discover the mathematics behind rockets. Students made Tangram Rockets with geometry shapes: triangle, squares, rectangles, and more, connecting geometry to their outer space unit. While playing a fun space card game, students also analyzed data about the planets and compared multi-digit numbers (diameter, distance from the sun, year of discovery, etc.). They reviewed 2D geometrical figures and building robots, and then practiced using multiplication to calculate how many sides and vertices each figure had. Students also investigated the science behind rocket balloons. They performed a science experiment to learn how a rocket works and demonstrate Newton’s third law of motion. They developed their own hypotheses, made predictions of the motion of their rockets, and tested their hypotheses by conducting their experiment several times to validate their results.
Students wrapped up their outer space adventures with their final project on their own research about the celestial body of their choice. Their visual work of sculptures, 3-D models, and more were accompanied by their final written pieces and oral presentations. Students reflected on their journey as explorers in the world beyond our planet, making connections between what they knew before they began the unit and what they learned. Some say that the sky’s the limit, but for our 2nd Grade future astronauts, the sky is just the beginning!
“The best part of this unit is witnessing students extend their learning, investigating more, taking initiative, being risk-takers, and showing so much creativity on their final projects.”
-Paulina Bemporad, 2nd Grade English Teacher