Classdome September 2016
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From the Classdome

September 2016

Animals not in the celestial zoo

It has been a busy summer. I picked up a lot of great ideas and got to do some great networking at IPS 2016 in Warsaw. One of the other projects I have been working on is with some of my students.

Birth of a student project

Several years ago I attended a WIMPS (Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota PlanetariumS) meeting at Minnesota State University at Moorhead and saw their presentation Sky Zoo. It was a partnership between the planetarium and their local zoo. Two years ago, I decided to do an adaptation using my local zoo and invited some students to help as a group project. The kids decided to focus the show on constellation animals and their real life adaptations.

10 Months Later…
It took some time. Organizing 7th and 8th graders into writing teams so they could decide on what they wanted to contribute took longer than I thought it would. After brainstorming the list of animals they wanted to work with, the students used a five-paragraph organizer to create some standardization between groups.

It felt like forever, but there finally was a script that we could work from. The teams had to be reconfigured, as the older students went off to high school and new students were brought in. While this change of membership did change the dynamic of the groups, they were still able to work with the scripts.

I was fortunate that no one had issues with assorted animals like snakes and naked mole rats.

I teach Astronomy, I don’t deal with the living

I found myself saying this a couple of times when kids would ask me questions about their animal that they couldn’t find with research. I had previously met with the zoo’s educational outreach director to develop a procedure for them to meet with the zoo caretakers. She was able to point me to some reliable and age appropriate resources.

Check one, check one-two, check…
After double-checking our facts and selecting our narrators, it was time to start recording the audio segments. The students decided to record the interviews with the zoo staff members because while they had an idea of what would be said, they thought it would be more authentic to just having them read a script.

Part of the script required the students to interview the same staff members in the winter and the summer. The kids really only needed to ask about 4 questions, but found that they would ask 10-12 questions when the time came. When we brought the video back, it meant they were able to eliminate some questions and maintain the flow of the story.

Do you see what I see?

When we were collecting videos we used a variety of cameras that were borrowed from other departments and schools. While this was a good cost-saving method, it did cause some problems when cameras were not set the same preferences. For example, we were using a FLIR camera to look at the heat dissipation off of assorted mammals and reptiles and the video was recorded at 24 fps instead of the 30 fps of the rest of the presentation.

The sad thing was we didn’t notice the problem until we rendered the rough draft of the presentation. After speaking to a couple of experts we came up with a plan to correct the issue instead of going back and doing an additional take at the zoo.

The students have about 90% of the winter portion of the presentation done and I finished correcting the frame rate problem with the summer video as well as a couple of resolution issues. As we approach the start of the next school year, I have to say we are further along than I thought we would be, but a couple of areas are still well behind schedule. I think making this a student co-production has lengthened the production time, but it has been worth it: the students are feeling a lot of ownership in the presentation.

Lesson Plan

I actually had trouble preparing this section of the article. I wasn’t short for ideas, but noticed that all the topics on my brainstorming page would fit in the category of “start of the school year.” So I jumped ahead in my plan book toward the middle of the second term and landed on my unit “All the Small Things.”
It is a fun lesson that uses my area’s moderate to heavy snowfall to give us an ample supply of samples. Younger students go out and gather 300 ml of snow that will get analyzed for micrometeorites. My older students use about 500 ml of snow to make “comets.”

Quick Comets
500 ml snow
10 ml sand
5 ml aquarium gravel
1 ml potting soil

Students mix the four ingredients together outside to prevent/minimize melting, then shape them into a form that they think will best survive the heating from our artificial “sun.” Once the mix is shaped, the student places it on an upside down cup in a pan (to catch the water and debris).

Our artificial sun is a 500-watt halogen work light aimed at the “comets” from 3 meters away. The students go into the planetarium for a show after documenting the size and shape of their comets.

Afterwards, they repeat this process and observe changes to the comets. This normally takes about 60 minutes and by the end the students can make some predictions for what causes comets to break up after only a few passes around the sun. It is also useful for opening a discussion on how the shape altered the melting rate.

There is also something funny about a comet shaped like a snowman.

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