Thursday, September 14, 2006

Desert RATS

Our first videoconference this year was with NASA and one of our 8th grade science classes. No it wasn't about those long tailed, not so popular rodents but rather about space research being conducted out in the Arizona desert. RATS is an acronym for Research and Technology Studies. This program provided our students an opportunity to hear and see NASA scientists as they worked in the Arizona desert. They also were given the opportunity to ask questions. Since this was a multipoint connection there were 4 other schools participating. The first part of the vc unfortunately our students missed because we lost connection with the bridge. Since the bridge called us I had no way of dialing them. When I called the bridge it went to a message machine. When I called my contact at NASA it went to a message machine. I even called one of the other schools that were connected and asked them to let them know we were no longer connected. FRUSTRATION. I FELT LIKE I WAS A RAT IN A MAZE. Finally I got through to NASA and someone got through to the bridge. The bridge called us back and the rest of the 50 minutes were wonderful. Our students were able to see how NASA scientists and engineers are using the earth’s terrain to test equipment that will be used by astronauts to work on other planets. They saw a robot vehicle called the All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer or ATHLETE (another acronym). NASA really likes using acronyms. The students also saw spacesuits, boots, and gloves up close and personal. Did you know that the spacesuit weighs about 250 pounds. That's a lot of fabric. And not your most comfortable clothes for the hot Arizona desert. But the heat in Arizona is nothing to the temperatures in space. So, the students saw how this spacesuit cools of the body. The students learned so much about the experiments that are being done in the desert. One student asked "what surprises they found in their experiments?" The NASA scientist answered there are many surprises. In fact he said there is no such thing as a failed experiment. You may not find what you thought you would but you always learn something. Most important of all was the message that all the scientists gave to their audience of middle schoolers. Find your passion and pursue it. Don't give up. As one NASA scientist said, "be like a postage stamp, stick to it until you reach your destination". Good advice.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Hit the Ground Running

It's back to school and back to videoconferencing. This year our schools are videoconferencing in September. I think this is a first. It use to be don't even mention the "V" word until October and even then it wasn't until late October that things got going. Now I find schools have dusted off the monitors, hooked up the Polycoms and started making test calls and school just started on Tuesday! What's going on? Is videoconferencing becoming the user friendly technology and not the exotic equipment in the corner it use to be? From the looks of things I would have to say "yes". In late August I received some interesting videoconferencing invites. NASA had a special event in early September and a school in Texas was looking for six urban school and six rural school partners. I sent out e-mails and to my delight I got enthusiastic responses. So, while our students are still learning their classmates names and room numbers, they will be meeting other students as far away as Alaska these first weeks of school. They will be questioning the scientists in the Arizona deserts as a springboard to their studies of space exploration and robotics this year. Tomorrow I and another teacher will be getting a lesson on using a Vtel videoconferencing unit from Paul Hieronymus, Technical Coordinator from Avon, Ohio. September is looking very busy and by the way, yesterday I registered for the last videoconference spot for a program at the end of March.