Category Archives: Education

Skype with Jet propulsion Lab’s Dr. Ashwin Vasavada

Last evening, Orbital’s Antares rocket lifted off for the International Space Station. Today the Chinese launched their own ‘March 2F’ rocket with two astronauts headed to their own separate Space Station.

So it is fitting that tomorrow for Space Day, our 4th grade students will Skype with Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA. He will talk about engineering design, as a preface to their making and deploying a model of the Phoenix lander.

The Lander looks something like this, but will be made to scale including the parachute, and several models will be tested outside!


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Posted by on October 18, 2016 in Education, STEM


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All set for SPACE DAY this week with rockets, rovers and StarLab

Getting back after Fall break with a big event this Wednesday, SPACE DAY. It’s my 5th year of bringing space science to our students from Kindergarten to 6th grade. Fascinating how things fall into place, thanks to the amazing support I get from the scientific community around us.

I am delighted to have Orbital ATK, a global leader in aerospace, conduct sessions for us, with many other groups. Today was supposed to be the launch of Orbital’s Antares rocket carrying cargo up to the International Space Station. The launch has been postponed for tomorrow, and should dock at the space station on SPACE Day – Wed Oct 19th!

Our keynote speaker will be Dr. Jim Rice, a NASA astrogeologist.

Sessions will cover these topics:


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Posted by on October 16, 2016 in Education, Events, STEM, Technology


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Invent, create and have fun with BirdBrain robotics

Micro-controllers are at the heart of many of today’s robotics kits.

This one, called the Hummingbird (with a pedigree derived from Carnegie Mellon labs), is designed for engineering and robotics activities for students from ages 13 and up.

I wish I could afford one of these for my computer lab, since it is an on-ramp to teaching students programming languages such as Python and Java. Or as CMU describes it, the micro-controller turns ‘crafts’ into bots.

And what’s a micro-controller for the uninitiated?

It is the decision-making part of a device, and could control sound, light, movement, and work with Bluetooth and WiFi. Our microwaves and phones have micro-controllers. We had a session on micro-controllers earlier this year.

Teaching young people to understand and tweak these devices could lead them toward higher problem-solving disciplines.


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SPACE DAY – Our 5th year of ‘slipping the surly bonds of earth’

In 2012, when I put together Mars Day at our school, I could tell there was a huge appetite for all things space-related. After all, the Mars rover ‘Curiosity’ had landed on the red planet a few months before.

space-dayThis year, our 5th year, we are broadening our lens, so to speak. We are calling it SPACE DAY. It is on Oct. 19th at Salt River Elementary.

I am so fortunate to have so many groups supporting me. From a NASA scientist, to Orbital ATK (formerly Orbital Science), and several groups from the School of Earth and Space at Arizona State University. Also a team who keeps bringing back StarLab, the inflatable planetarium. But wait, there’s more – a surprise guest from the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), the NASA group prepping for Mars.

There are several break-out sessions, some that will happen concurrently. We may even have a few real rocket launches outside! This year two of my colleagues will  conduct hands-on sessions that add art and design to the mix. My goal has always been to add more of the ‘A’ to the S.T.E.A.M programs.

Almost every week it’s hard to escape news of audacious new programs pertaining to vehicular designs, space colonies, cosmonauts, or discoveries about comets, asteroids, and planets –the ones we know, and those that are still to be named.

One day of the year just scratches the surface, don’t you think?

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Posted by on October 6, 2016 in Ed-Tech, Education, STEM, Technology


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As Rosetta mission ends, Osiris Rex soars

As an asteroid and comet watcher, the Rosetta mission designed to swing around and land on a comet ’67P’ fascinated me. I also used in for a class on animation last year, so that 6th graders could learn about the mission while learning to animate the path of Rosetta. The European space agency lost contact with Rosetta at 11:19 a.m. GMT today when the craft’s probe ‘impacted’ the comet, having reached it two years ago, on August 2014.


This year, my students focused on Osiris Rex, the NASA mission to study the asteroid Bennu. marsed_sept2016By some coincidence, this was one of the big themes of the Mars Education conference I attended at ASU last Saturday.)

Students have looked up facts about the mission and next week will begin animating the path of Osiris Rex.

Osiris Rex will reach Bennu sometime in 2018, and its probe will do something more daring, – use a probe to scoop up a bit of the asteroid’s material, while it is still moving! Fascinating to think of the planning and steps this involves.

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Posted by on September 30, 2016 in ASU, Education, Technology, Workshops


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Going bats! How robotics makes science exciting

When I am asked what we do in robotics, I tend to answer it with something about ‘making science relevant and exciting.’ Not the about how it is fun to build, or why programming is a 21st century skill etc. which is also accurate.


This Tuesday, I had ASU researcher and robotics mentor Ruben Gameros kick off a brainstorming session with my robotics team. The topic was ‘animal-human interaction.’ I loved how Ruben got the students thinking of ‘animal’s that are often not on their radar: bats, bees and insects.

Bat’s after all are mammals, with amazing navigation skills. They also help our survival in ways that often go unnoticed. Ruben is familiar with ‘critters’ for another reason. He works in a field of bio-mimicry, and swarm robotics!

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Posted by on September 28, 2016 in Ed-Tech, Education, Robotics


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In Robotics, investigating, journaling, and ‘core values’ matter

This week, we selected members who applied to our Robotics club. That’s right, we have an application process which involves a short test, an interview and a contract (the code of conduct) they sign and agree to practice.

Why such a process? Robotics is an after-school club at my school but I wanted members to realize what they were getting into. It’s not just building and playing with Legos. I have done this for 5 years now, and found out that the real value for students is when they get their hands around the broader scope of robotics. They learn to be researchers, problem-solvers, journal-keepers, programmers, and ‘mission specialists.’ They must also become good presenters of their work.

This year, the focus (‘Animal Allies‘) is on Animal-Human interaction. What happens when animals and people interact? Are there problems they could identify, and solve? As FLL recommends, could the solution be beneficial to animals and humans?

If you’re starting out with a team it’s important to know that many of the previous themes have nudged students towards a ‘win-win’ solution.

At the tournaments, teams will be judged on three areas

  • Core Values
  • Project
  • Robot Design


A little neglected fact is that winning the Robot game will not earn the most points. But as we coaches all realize, the robot game is what eats up most of the meeting time. It’s also worth looking at the rubrics for each of these three categories:

Just the Rubric for the Project (right) involves:

  • Problem Identification, Sources of information, Problem Analysis, Review of Existing Solutions.
  • Team Solution, Innovation, Implementation.
  • Sharing, Creativity, Presentation Effectiveness.

In other words, getting into robotics means learning to become an investigator, a problem-solver, learn to be an effective communicator of the science you worked on. It’s exciting to see 5th and 6th graders step out of their comfort zones to do this!

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Posted by on September 23, 2016 in Education, Robotics


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