I’ve got to admit, this is probably the most challenging review I’ve done to date, as there was a lot to cover.
“Lunar Challenge” was developed in response to the President’s Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), which has generally been well received in the space-interested communities. The VSE was well-researched, well-structured, and laid out a reasonable path to explore and even pioneer the High Frontier of our Solar system in the interest of commerce, security, and science. So long as NASA didn’t decide to build a new launch vehicle. Which they decided to do anyway, and consequently it’s sucking all of the budget out of everything else at the agency. But that’s for another post…
The folks at EdNovations saw the opportunity to create an informal education tool-kit that used a Lunar theme to develop an understanding of systems and how they fit together, as well as to encourage youngsters into more technical fields. The foundation was laid years earlier as the result of a National Science Foundation grant and work with the Challenger Center for Space Science Education (locations). They developed the “Lunar Challenge“, and proceeded to win recognition from the National Science Teachers Association and NASA, as well as others. I’ve got a fair amount of curricular materials in the Lunar Library, but nothing quite like this box of goodies.
Let’s get started with the Project Director’s guide. The contents are tabbed into:
Program Overview – this highlights the educational goals, in the context of what they call Community Science. Involving the parents and others in the community in the education of its future citizens. The project is about ‘parents as informed partners in education’, ‘learning by doing’, and ‘team-based learning’. There’s a pedagogy grid, which notes the salient fact that parents don’t want to risk failure.
The Curriculum Overview gets into some specifics: 15 parent/child teams, 4-8th grade target audience (for the child), four 2-hour sessions, 1 subsystem per team, grouped into 5 Mission Design teams such as Human Habitation and R&D. All of the weeks are structured the same, with ample time for model building, and a chart lays out the high level structure. There are also a couple of charts on which Education and Skills standards are addressed by the program.
Program Facilitation – this section addresses the question of who the Project Director should approach to help them out. This was a particularly interesting section for me, as it cut right to the core of the issues I’ve faced in various community outreach and service projects – you can’t do it alone.
First up is location. The kit is designed to be easily implementable by teachers at schools, but it is also implementable by other groups in other locations. The first thought that came to my mind was the Frontiers of Flight museum here in Dallas (where it could be done on the weekends), or the Science Place. What you need is a location where the teams can get behind the scenes and see the infrastructure of the facility. Pipes and ducts and whatnot.
Second is what are known in the volunteer community as warm bodies. The Guide recommends at least two assistants, four is better, to better handle the logistics. I know from experience that if the logistics are mishandled, parents can become rather unpleasant. If for example a community group, such as a local chapter of the National Space Society or the Moon Society, decides to undertake the project then the duties can be divvied up amongst the members. The hardest part is the Mentors, which we’ll get to in a bit.
Outreach – this tab covers the twin aspects of the project: enrolling parents and getting the support of mentors. It also touches on getting Community Support. Getting fifteen grown-ups to participate is harder than it sounds (so the program can be done with as few as ten). Remember, parents do not want to look like failures or know-nothings in front of their children. Many would much rather dump them off with the program and be back in two hours to pick them up. So this challenge can’t be underestimated. This is why community groups looking to run the program should look to a museum or science related facility to host the event so as to get on their publicity calendars, and noticed by the kinds of parents who go to museum websites for their communities. Youth programs at the local Frontiers of Flight museum usually fill up very soon after the notices go up on the internet.
Mentors are people in the community who have skills relevant to the Lunar base design. This is not as hard as it might at first sound. The obvious example would be the facilities engineer at the location where the Lunar Challenge is being held, who could show the families the physical plant and systems that deliver conditioned air and water and so on to the far reaches of the building. An architect might be enlisted to help with the Human Habitation aspects. The owner of the local gym could come talk about the challenges of recreational and exercise facilities. (laundry, anyone?). The point is that space science knowledge is NOT a requirement, but some technical knowledge is required. The Guide provides a list of relevant sources by Mission Design team, as well as by the type of organization being approached.
A couple words of experience on this one. Ask. It hurts nothing to ask. The worst that someone will say is no and provide an excuse. But you absolutely will not know if you do not ask. Mentioning that you are doing a community service/education project is always a plus. Go with local organizations over corporations. They have much more flexibility in what they can do as far as lending people out.
This also holds true for the Community Support part of this section. Corporations typically have a department at HQ that directs how the company does community support, typically in a way that maximizes corporate exposure. Local companies can make faster decisions and can be more generous. Basically because they’re trying to unload their non-selling stuff (in a materials donation) in a way that gets them a tax benefit via donation. Keep that in mind as you approach businesses asking for their stuff for free. You often get what you pay for, good old caveat emptor. It also holds true that if you don’t ask, you won’t ever know if that might have been the yes you were looking for.
To give you a sense of what’s possible, when I did a volunteer stint for the UNA-USA Model UN in NYC, I contacted Scientific American (also in NYC) about a Space Exploration issue they had recently done (relevant to the topic that year of the UN Outer Space Treaties). They sent me 500 copies to distribute to the students. The team of volunteers rounded up so much space stuff from local businesses that we had to have a raffle to give it all away (including a trip to Space Camp). Ye cannot receive if ye do not ask. And try to structure your proposal in a way that provides benefits for the donor. In the case of the Scientific Americans, they saw it as an opportunity to get new subscribers to their publication from an audience they don’t necessarily normally reach, I saw it as a great digest of current space information for the students. Win-win.
Next up we get into the four sessions of the program. Everything starts off with introductions, and an overview of the program. They’ve been selected to work together to design a Lunar base that they will inhabit for one year. The task has been divided into five Mission Design Teams, each of three family pairs. These three families will each design a subsystem for their part of the base, such as Nutrition & Food Production, which has Food Storage, Food Preparation, and Food Production (greenhouses) subsystems. Each subsystem requires inputs from other subsystems, so liaising with other teams is important.
There’s a quick brainstorm session, with video clip on DVD, and then to help break the ice there’s a ‘Crash Landing’ activity that gets everyone together to solve a conundrum facing them on the Moon. The Design Team portfolios are handed out, and each group has to decide on which pair will address which subsystem. Worksheets are handed out, and then everyone goes on a building tour to see what kind of systems are found where. Each group then starts brainstorming how they’re going to put together their particular subsystem. There are a lot of support materials that are sent home, so be prepared for one of your assistants to do some photocopying for you. Part of the background materials include a portion of Exploring the Moon: a Teacher’s Guide, which seems to be the de facto basic write-up on the mineralogy of the Moon (a/k/a Selenology).
Since there is so much stuff sent home to absorb, it’s generally not a good idea to hold the next session the next day (which would be tempting for weekend events), though it is doable. Most of the second session involves working on the modules, sketching and modeling them to get the best design. This one gives ample time for the mentors to assist in the design of the modules, but one has to be careful of strong personalities taking over the work of the groups. The design should come from the families, and give them a chance to shine. After all, if they were pros they’d be doing the mentor’s job. The send-home materials draw from Space Food and Nutrition, another classic NASA reference.
The third session starts out with another video clip from the DVD, and then gets into the permit process, whereby each family has to show how their recycled creation addresses the specific function to which they’ve been assigned. Once the Project Director approves the design, they get a Certificate of Occupancy, which allows them to begin gluing their recycled components to the base. Towards the end of the session, participants are reminded to start thinking of strategies for bringing the subsystems together. This session’s take-home is an electricity-usage study project and overview of the ISS’s power systems.
The last session opens with some brainstorming, and a Design Team challenge that could be quite interesting. The groups then start working towards the link up of the five modules and all of the subsystems. Everyone gives their report, and celebrates as they look forward to departing for the Moon.
There are also four envelopes with materials to support each of the particular sessions, much of it laminated for re-use.
This is a thoroughly fleshed-out and well-supported project, from laminated table tents to stickers for the Design Portfolios to a DVD. I can easily see this sort of project becoming something of an annual affair, or run several times during the summer at a local science institution. It’s a big project, but not unmanageable. It would take prep time, but the main thing is to get access to a photocopier that can do 15 copies of the stuff. There are all kinds of support materials to help you out, and the guide makes a lot of good recommendations for implementation of the Challenge.
From a space science perspective, I think this could be a great outreach project for the local chapter of one of the national organizations like NSS or the Moon Society. Folks from the Mars Society folks may not know much about the Moon, but they do know space habitats. Solar System Ambassadors get a good grounding in space science. The Planetary Society is another source for people in the know about space in general. Be forewarned, though. People who really know stuff about the Moon are few and far between. Just because someone has a background in geology doesn’t mean they can talk about selenology. The NASA Lunar Science Institute is working to change that, but it is not going to be a quick process.
You can help hasten that process by introducing this educational product in your community. It’s reasonably priced as far as educational products go, and there are many ways to stretch your invested dollar. One example might be to run a few of the other recent curricular materials as warm-up, such as Field Trip to the Moon and Lunar-Nautics, to get a superior result in the Lunar Challenge. I like that fact that it would be relatively easy for a local space-interest or other group to run a Challenge, even if the primary audience is teachers with access to school facilities. That’s probably why the Girl Scouts have their logo in there. I’m sure homeschoolers would be able to run it, and they may even have an advantage in their informal networks as far as getting enough parent/child teams together, and flexibility in things like getting group discounts to the local planetarium.
My brain is abuzz with possible ideas in implementing a “Lunar Challenge“, and I can’t find any fault with the materials, which were thorough and relevant. I’m just thinking of ways to supplement the program with materials from the Lunar Library. If I’m this excited about it, I can’t give it anything less than a Full Moon.