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Thursday, Oct 30, 2014
South Shore News

FishHawk elementary students chat with an astronaut

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Students at FishHawk Creek Elementary got a science lesson that was literally out of this world.

On May 17, the school’s media center hosted a videoconference chat with astronaut Col. Mike Fincke for more than 90 students in FishHawk Creek’s Academically Gifted Program.

“It allowed them to connect the science they’re learning about in class to the real world,” said Mary Vaughn, who works with the school’s gifted students.

The session was part of NASA’s EarthKAM Challenge, an outreach program that brings classrooms lessons about weather and erosion to life. Using the vantage point of the International Space Station, EarthKAM’s camera is able to capture unique images of the planet’s land formations.

EarthKAM was established by Sally Ride — the first American woman in space — in 1995 as KidSat. In 1998, the name was changed to ISS EarthKAM (Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students) and the camera flew on two space shuttle flights before being moved to its current place on the International Space Station in 2001.

The camera supports about four missions per year; the most recent took place April 23-26. Students submitted global landforms to be photographed by the EarthKAM camera. Once the students received the image, they were invited to submit it along with a 250-word description of the erosive factors on display.

Fifth graders Andrew Golden, Samantha Simpson and Chris Weis wrote the winning submission for FishHawk Creek Elementary, which depicted the broken-down sediments in the Helodrano Mahajamba bay in Madagascar.

“We stayed during recess, looked up coordinates, and tried to figure out where the image was and why it looked the way it did,” Golden said.

FishHawk Creek was chosen among the top five North American entries. As a result, the students got to spend about an hour with Fincke via videoconference at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Fincke, who has spent a total of 381 days, 15 hours and 11 minutes in orbit, talked about his time spent in space and referred to the space station as “humanity’s outpost to the stars.”

“It was cool to see an astronaut’s perspective,” Weis said.

“I liked that we also go to see the students from the other schools,” Simpson said.

Vaughn said the Academically Gifted Program students worked together to reach a consensus on the image they would submit as well as the questions they would ask during the Q&A portion of their chat with Fincke.

“This sort of program inspires them to go deeper into their work,” Vaughn said. “It really opens their eyes.”


jceballos@tampatrib.com

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