Heather Wolpert-Gawron

DARPA project con’t: Research and Questioning

By on September 18, 2011

As my readers may know, my students are planning for the future of the human species. This year, as I have described in an earlier post, I am dedicating much of the year to Project-Based Learning and trying to make sure that what I’m teaching in the classroom applies directly to skills these kids will need for their future selves.

In this case, my students have applied to sit on a panel in an upcoming DARPA and NASA conference in Florida. It was a mythical session at the time I designed the unit, but the amazing thing, as many of you may know, is that we were actually contacted by NASA in order for my students to Skype in as a session to the actual conference.

In preparation of this event, we are doing a lot of research. To frontload for this, we talked a lot about Internet Literacy. Some of the topics we have discussed are:

1. Google Advanced Searches
2. Recognizing biased Websites
3. Citation of various online sources
4. Norms of blogging and video conferencing
5. Tracking down more resources using the bibliographies of current resources

We’ve also begun a classroom resource library broken down by the strands of research each student is conducting. The students bring in their bibliographies and selected articles copied or printed out, and put them in their corresponding files. This library then becomes possible resources for other students assigned to that strand.

So the bulk of this past week or so has been research, and as a component of that, my students had the opportunity to interview some professionals in the field. JPL (Jet Propulsions Laboratory) found some very kind and willing volunteers who offered to be interviewed by email. This then blossomed into a full-on Skype session last Friday where my students could interview, face-to-face, scientists who are actually involved in the development of interstellar space missions.

My students, clipboards in hand, took Cornell notes as the scientists listened, answered, and even asked their own questions. Needless to say, it was cool.

I was particularly proud of the questions that the students developed to take advantage of these scientists who were willing to donate their time to share their expertise. We’ve talked a bit about the Levels of Inquiry and developing high-level questions. We’ve talked a bit about asking questions in an interview that are not easily answered with Google. We’ve talked about how asking great questions is an indicator to great comprehension. The result was great, and the time spent with the professionals gave us some richly researched, primary resources for our DARPA arguments that are due on Sept 26 as final drafts.

Here is the list of questions my students developed and agreed upon to send:

1. Do we currently have the technology to create an atmosphere?
2. What would be the most efficient way to generate electricity?
3. Where would we store waste?
4. How can you prevent contracting diseases from other planets?
5. What importance is there to human life suspension?
6. What ready and reliable fuel sources already exist that can be used to get off the surface?
7. What speeds, with today’s technologies, are we able to accelerate up to? And how will we maintain that speed?
8. If possible, are we going to use the properties of black holes/wormholes to our advantage? (sling shot-ing, portal traveling, etc.?)
9. In your opinion, would it be better to first send probes to new destination options, or take journeys of faith with real people?
10. How do you think we could fit all the materials (food, water, etc.) in the star ship?
11. How can we keep the public interested in the project throughout the course of time?
12. What use of media/ technology is best to project the endeavor throughout the US and the entire world?
13. In terms of selecting a planet, what would you look for as required qualities of a habitable planet?
14. What type of people should first try to colonize on the planet? EX: researchers, scientists, athletes, or regular humans/civilians?
15. What are the mental ramifications of being at/in one place (i.e. planets) for too long?
16. Would it be more economical to change the environment of the planet that we may find habitable or create an artificial area to inhabit?
17. How do you get knowledge of the new scientific discoveries out to countries that don’t have the technology we have?
18. What kind of environmental toxins are in outer space that we already know we need to plan for/avoid/utilize?
19. Is there another source of energy besides solar power that can be used on a planetary colony?
20. What are the most important qualities that a colony needs to be self-sustainable?
21. Do we currently have any technology that makes it possible to prevent bone loss?
22. Which medicines (from over-the-counter to powerful anesthetics) will be needed to carry on board to the starship?
23. Please describe a sleeping chamber on a starship and the process of waking up and going back to sleep with daily check-ups in between.

One can clearly see that while they are asking questions, they needed to have a level of research conducted and a level of understanding before asking these levels of questions. Wouldn’t you want to know the answer to some of these? Well, I tell you the responses that came back were as detailed as the questions asked and fascinating. As you may know from my last post, I am learning along with my students.

I’ve given them the scaffold of writing necessary to mimic those found outside of school. From there, the universe is theirs to discover.

I’ll keep you all in the loop as it happens!

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