Tuesday 21 May 2019

Planet Earth and Beyond: Some reflections

For people who don’t know me too well, I am a bit passionate in a very amateur way about astronomy and geology. Currently, I am teaching ESS to my y10s (Earth Science), my y11s (Life on Mars course) and my y12s (looking into the technology to keep astronauts alive in space).
The y10s get to research an Earth Science event in NZ, not too difficult with approximately 20,000 earthquakes in NZ in the average year, plus quite a few interesting volcanoes which have occasionally caused some harm.
The 11s have been investigating Mars (sadly, no field trip…) and looking into the missions to get us to the red planet. We are just completing an investigation using Mars simulant soil (called regolith and about $350 USD including postage). The girls got to choose whether they used a specific mix of Martian regolith soil (actually basalt from the Mojave Desert) and compost with different seeds or they could try different ratios of compost to regolith with the same seed type. The results are not fully in yet, but it will give us an insight (slight pun intended for Mars geeks) into the types of food crops that could be grown on Mars.
 These are the seedlings after a few days.
 This unit is a semester-long course and is the first time I’ve run it since we scrapped NCEA for y11/Level 1. It has been fun trying to work out what we are doing in the class, the options are quite vast, and we are going to finish the term looking at as many aspects of travel to Mars as we can with lots of random investigations thrown in as I think of them. It has been a fun experience, and I had a brainwave this afternoon: mission patches or stickers (probably cheaper…) to give the girls once they complete the class, just like the NASA mission badges.
This is going to be a work in progress, and I’ll come back and write more about it once I have got my A into G and found someone to make these for me (I need to design them first).
I’ve enjoyed teaching something I am passionate about, without the need for credit chasing. Last year with NCEA Level 1 I had girls crying when they got Not Achieved grades. When did our education system make this sort of thing OK? At least with this course, we are learning for the fun of it (I’m learning heaps, too), and the stress levels are not there. My girls are learning for the sake of finding out cool stuff and this has made my life so much easier too. Learning (and teaching) is so much more fun when it is relevant or interesting; I have to say I am grateful to the school for giving us the opportunity to scrap L1 and follow our hearts instead!

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