Stories

Video: Mission possible: Third Graders engineer space exploration projects

April 22, 2019

Third Graders, in a new project-based learning unit led by Lower School Science teacher Lise Sansom, recently put their design-thinking skills to use for some space engineering. In a Third Grade version of Google’s famous “design sprint” process, students completed their research, engineered and built spacecraft, and also wrote a script for a video they produced and filmed about their ships, their missions, and facts about their planets. 

Working with a partner, each Third Grader researched a location in space — planet, star, moon, etc. They learned about planetary conditions — excessive heat, distance from earth, atmospheric composition, and more. Then two groups worked together to design a spacecraft that could go on a mission to both locations.

Their designs had to address the specific problems posed by the itinerary — for instance, one group’s “VM Voyager” craft had to have special features such as shields to protect it from the extreme heat and cold on Mercury and the acid rain surrounding Venus. Solar panels, drones for sample collection, pressure sensors — these craft had it all. The young engineers then used recycled materials (think Legos, computer parts, paper towel tubes, old CDs or thumb drives) to build their model spaceships.

“Having to think about where the craft were going and all the challenges posed by that mission really compelled the students to learn about the destinations in space and to work through the elements they would need to accomplish the mission,” said Lise. “It was a more engaging way to learn about space, and the Third Graders just loved this project.”