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How to Live on Other Planets

Monday, January 30, 2017

Our teachers believe that meaningful inquiry gives direction to student projects. To engage her students in science and technology, Lead Advisor Sophie Hussenet built her term curriculum around a question she knew her students would be excited to answer: Why are we unable to live on other planets in our solar system?

"My focus is the well-being of the students," says Sophie. "We need to give them the keys to develop the next century and how it should look."

Over the course of the project, students in Independence Level 2 came to understand that temperature and atmospheric composition affect the development of life on other planets. They learned about the conditions necessary for human survival and conducted experiments to learn more about the properties of oxygen, heat, food, and water. Students related what they learned about the essential needs for life (both plant and animal) back to the facts they learned about planets, and they took a field trip to NASA's Ames Research Center to learn about the Kepler Mission and other NASA projects. The content even linked back to their work in Music, where they practiced singing in parts by performing a song about the Universe.

In addition to creating models of the solar system using online tools like Tynker, students picked an astronomical body to terraform in order to make it sustainable for human life. In order to contextualize their learning, each group constructed an astronaut suit that would help humans live on their chosen planet.

Watch the video to hear each group explain their astronaut suit!

Europa

“Our astronaut suit is built for Europa, and there are some problems on Europa,” explained one group. “The problems are that it’s very, very cold there, plus there’s some deadly radiation. So what we did to fix that is we put fur inside to keep her [our astronaut] warm, and we used special radiation-proof silk to keep us not radiated. And we have an oxygen tank on the back. There’s a hole in the bottom so she can actually breathe. The straws lead up to the helmet so she can breathe. The bubble wrap is so that no air comes up from the bottom.”

Titan

One group who chose Titan said that the problem on Titan “is that there’s limited sunlight”:

“If a little bit of sunlight hits here, then we can get it to reflect light in front, and it’s got solar panels on, and there are some lights in the helmet, so that you can see your way. And in the back, as you can see, there’s an oxygen tank.”

Another group said that Titan's main problem is that its atmosphere is “highly explosive.” 

“So to fix the problem we put air conditioning right here toward the back, on the back, so that she won’t overheat... and this is a fireproof fabric so she won’t burn.”

The Moon

The final group chose Earth's only permanent natural satellite: our Moon.

“Our astronaut suit we made is for the Moon. The Moon’s problem is that it has temperature variations... unlike Earth where it’s cold and hot in seasons, the Moon could be hot one day and cold the other. To fix this problem, we have two layers. The first layer is insulated so that it will keep you warm when it is cold. The second layer, which is underneath, will keep you cool when it is hot. And since the moon is reasonably dark, we have quite a bit of reflective stuff.”

Other astronomical bodies the students considered terraforming were Ceres (a dwarf planet within the orbit of Neptune) and Mars.

Astronaut suit! Making space travel a reality for all their friends at school Independence Level 2 Field trip to NASA

A major goal of the project was to encourage students to be independent while also learning to work collaboratively. When asked how he enjoyed working together with his teammates, 9-year-old Ben said, "My favorite part was that I could cooperate with them and help them and they could help me."

"Everyone is learning at his or her own pace," says Sophie, whose mixed-age class ranges from 6 to 9 years old. "Students are the center of their learning, and from a young age, they understand that nothing can be achieved successfully if they are not self-motivated."