My second week working for the YSCCC was Space Week.
I have to admit that I was very excited. At least once a week, the YSCCC teachers get together and do curriculum planning. Together they create a week-long lesson plan with a theme. They schedule projects, reading, and activities that reflect the theme. On my first day of work, I was invited to participate in curriculum planning for the following week, which would be space-themed.
I cannot imagine a better way for me to have begun my co-op than creating activities and projects to teach children about space. I still remember the distant wonder of possibilities that outer space seemed to hold when I was a child. As an adult, my fascination continues through a love of science fiction books, movies, and shows. On my first day of work, I was more than ready to help plan for Space Week.
My first responsibility was to come up with a list of interesting facts about each of the planets in our solar system. This was one of my suggestions for the curriculum, because I hoped that interesting and off-hand facts would be engaging enough to stick in the minds of at least one or two of the preschoolers. I gathered facts, wrote them in bright colors, and gathered them onto posterboard. I was invited to give my little presentation in place of a story book for circle time.
I found that enthusiasm seems to be the key to engaging preschoolers in just about anything. If you are excited about something, that excitement is contagious. I showed them my fact board, read aloud about each planet, and engaged in further explanations and questions. I explained why Pluto used to be considered a planet, and why it no longer is. I explained what makes Mercury the fastest planet, and the difference between its speed and Earth’s speed. Most of the kids did not want to believe that there is a massive storm on Jupiter that has lasted more than 300 years!
Overall, Space Week was a success and a blast. I helped the kids and my co-workers hang up stars and the planets in the Science Room. The kids decorated a rocket simulator, complete with a control system. They took turns sitting in the rocket, choosing which planet to visit next, and I assisted as the voice of “Ground Control” to “Major Tom.” With my hands cupped over my mouth to create a radio voice, I counted down from 10 to blast-off, and continued to narrate facts and observations each time we “landed” on a planet or moon. Later, the preschoolers invented their own aliens, made their own planets out of paper mache and paint. The after-school kids walked the length of a football field to understand the scale of distance between each of the planets, starting from the sun and ending with Neptune. They built their own bottle rockets, and completed worksheets about the solar system.
Space Week was so fun and successful, we extended it for an extra!
In the second week, I built a constellation box for the kids. There are a few different ways to make a constellation box, but mine was a bit different than the traditional boxes. I taped the box together tight enough that you couldn’t see any light through any gaps, cut a rectangle on one end almost as big as a piece of printer paper, and cut two round holes at the top for looking inside. I created slides of a number of constellations from paper and cardboard, with holes as thick as a pencil where the stars needed to be. Once all that was done, we could place a slide of each of the constellations one at a time into the slot that covered my box’s rectangular hole. When we shined a bright light on the slide and looked through one of the viewing holes, we could see the stars dance inside the box like they do in the night sky. One boy enjoyed watching me make the slides, and he became so excited that he made up his own constellation and named it “Grabber.” We turned his constellation into its own slide, which is now stacked with the other slides for the kids to use later.
Perhaps one of my favorite experiences from Space Week happened with the after-school kids. One boy that I had not spent very much time with yet came to me with a question about outer space. One question lead to another, until we had spent over an hour talking about the science and properties of space. What happens to fire in space? What would happen if you took off your helmet in space? What’s the longest a person can survive exposure in space? How does water function in space? How is moon dust different than Earth dust? I almost could not believe it when he told me that he had never heard of Bill Nye the Science Guy! I explained what the Bill Nye show was like, that Bill has always been a real scientist, and all about his efforts to place a sundial on NASA’s 2001 Mars Surveyor Lander.
My final mission, once Space Week had come and gone, was to save the classroom decorations in the science room. The kids loved the planets so much, I offered to turn them into a mobile that we could hang from the ceiling.