I had a chance to talk with a number of educators last week at MACUL about a project I was doing with my students using the before-mentioned Stellarium software. Since my students are almost finished I thought I’d share the project concept with everyone as you may be wondering what to do once you’ve downloaded Stellarium.
Usually 6th graders at my school just complete a simple research paper on a constellation of their choice while we are studying outer space. Not wanting to give them a tired paper, I pointed them towards the articles about Space Ship One, the privately built reuseable spacecraft that won the X-prize two years ago, making it the first privately-funded spacecraft to break the 100 km altitude barrier. Basically, private companies will soon be capable of sending ordinary citizens (well, ordinary citizens with a large bankroll) on short flights into the weightlessness of space. After reading a few CNN articles about it online, I asked my students to imagine what type of space travel might be possible in 50 years, when they’re older, and encouraged them to imagine being able to travel to any star as easily as traveling to Disney World for Spring Break (alright, so it was a BIG stretch of the imagination).
The task I gave them was creating a sales/travel brochure to the constellation of their choice (don’t, worry, we talked about the fact that the stars in each constellation are millions of miles apart), looked at a few travel brochures readily available, and took off with MS Publisher. We talked about how to fill in personal and business information using the template wizard, and then how to go about editing and changing a template to meet their needs. They were required to create their own commercial starliner business, complete with a web address, e-mail, phone number, etc. They were also given the option of adding prices for other trips as well as the one they were trying to sell. Of course, they had to provide some background about the constellations themselves, wrapping potential customers in the mythology of the constellation, the size of the stars that make it up, and if there were any scenic points of interests (nebulas, quasars, galaxies) nearby. Stellarium came in quite handy for those bits of information. So far the results have been pretty good; they’re enjoying creating their own starliner business, and are actually doing a good job of “selling” trips to the stars, complete with info from Stellarium and Internet sites. I’ll put some examples up later when I’m feeling better if there’s any demand for them.