Holding a picture of the planet Neptune in one hand, Diana L. picked up the end of a measuring tape in increments of millions of miles and started walking down the hall of Fletcher Elementary on Tuesday. She stopped when her classmate with a picture of Uranus latched onto the measuring tape, and started walking so Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Earth and Venus could join in.
“Neptune, are you cold out there?” asked “Dr. Bunsen” from Hands On! Children’s Musuem. “Because you’re really, really far away from the sun.”
Dr. Bunsen and her colleague, “Dr. Beaker,” were using the tape measurer and a paper folding game Tuesday to illustrate the vastness of space to students in Fletcher Elementary’s Read to Achieve summer school reading camp.
The state-funded RTA Camps are designed to help students who need a little extra help with reading skills over the summer, in preparation for their next grade level requirements. At Fletcher, the thematic unit is on space, so in addition to reading and discussing books about space and space travel, the campers performed experiments and activities with the Hands On! instructors.
Dr. Beaker used another activity to show the distance between planets to scale. First, she handed out strips of long white paper and had students mark the left end with “S” for sun. Then, she instructed them to fold the paper at certain points and label planets at the folds. The paper folding started off easy, with plenty of space between Sun and Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – the “Outer Planets.”
“Take your sun, told it to the asteroid belt, so now there’s that tiny crease,” Dr. Beaker instructed. “Earth will go on the “Sun” side of the crease. Mars will go on the other side of the crease.”
Drs. Beaker and Bunsen also talked to students about how humans first entered space in a space capsule rocketed from Earth – and how they reentered Earth’s atmosphere.
“On the bottom of the space capsules, scientists had to design heat shields that would withstand the heat and gravity pulling (astronauts) down, and they had to enter atmosphere at a certain angle,” Dr. Bunsen said.
The students then discussed what sorts of space gear astronauts wore when exploring space and performed experiments to see whether larger or smaller “asteroids” (or marbles) created the deepest craters in the moon (or a pan of packed flour). Before the day was over, students had personified planets, made craters, and built constellations out of spaghetti and marshmallows.
– By Molly McGowan Gorsuch
Public Information Officer