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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

The Apollo 8 space vehicle is launched from Kennedy Space Center, 1968 Race to the Moon provides insights into American history topics including the Cold War, the space race, the Apollo missions, the technical challenges of space exploration, possibilities for sustaining human life in space, the turmoil of 1968, and more. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into four categories: history, technology, geography, and economics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.


History | Technology | Economics | Geography

  1. The Cold War on Earth and in space.
    The space race between the United States and the Soviet Union -- a race ultimately won by the United States, to the great frustration of those on the Soviet side -- was only one part of the two nations' competition for power and influence.

    As a class, compare developments in the Cold War's two main battlegrounds, Earth and space, by constructing a two-level timeline of the 1957-1975 period. On one level, list the major events in the space race. On the other level, list major events in the Cold War on Earth.

    When you have finished, compare the two levels of the timeline. Were periods of high tension on Earth also periods of sharp competition in space? Were there years in which one of the superpowers was "ahead" of its rival in space but "behind" its rival on Earth?

  2. "You saved 1968."
    As the telegram thanking the Apollo 8 astronauts for "saving" 1968 implied, people in the United States and elsewhere needed good news by the end of that traumatic year. Divide the events of 1968 listed in the people and events reading on 1968 among groups of students to investigate. Each group should prepare a brief oral report for the class on its assigned event and the significance of this event; the report must include at least one photograph of the event and at least two quotations from media coverage of the event or from participants or eyewitnesses. Have groups make their presentations in chronological order; as each group finishes, it should mark its assigned event on a timeline of 1968 mounted on the wall. Then, when groups have finished, add Apollo 8's successful mission to the timeline.


History | Technology | Economics | Geography

  1. Famous firsts.
    So fast has been the pace of technological change in the modern age that a person born in the year of the Wright brothers' famous flight (1903) would barely have retired by the time Apollo 8 accomplished its many firsts, or when the Apollo 11 astronauts walked on the moon the following year.

    To review some of the technological accomplishments of this period, divide the years 1903 through 1969 among students. Each student should find one important technological advance for each year he or she was assigned. Assemble the findings on a timeline. (You may want to divide the timeline into categories, such as medicine, travel, communication, military weapons, and so on.) Then review the timeline as a class: which five advances, in your opinion, will future historians regard as the most important?

  2. Daily life in space.
    The insider stories about Apollo 8 show that while space exploration involves both history and heroism, it also has its more "down to earth" aspects. Explore NASA's Living in Space Web site to find out how today's astronauts eat, sleep, bathe, and perform other daily tasks. Then find out what the Apollo 8 astronauts had for their Christmas dinner in space.

    To get a sense of what astronauts' meals might taste like, hold an indoor class picnic where the menu consists entirely of freeze-dried foods. You can buy these foods at a camping supply store or over the internet, among other places. Assign different students to bring different kinds of food (including dessert!). Those in charge of liquids could bring Tang, the fruit-flavored soft drink used on many space missions.


History | Technology | Economics | Geography

  1. Worth the cost?
    Take the online poll, which asks whether you believe the success of the United States' initiative to send men to the moon was worth the cost.

    As the poll notes, the combined cost of the Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo programs was roughly equivalent to the projected cost of reaching Mars. In 2004, President George W. Bush announced a new space exploration initiative to return to the moon by 2020 and use it as a stepping-stone to Mars.

    Hold a mock congressional committee hearing on whether the nation should spend more than $100 billion to reach Mars or instead should use this sum for another purpose, such as national defense, helping the poor, tax relief, education, health care, or environmental protection. (For the purposes of this activity, assume that the funds in question cannot be divided among two or more uses.)

    Assign one group of students to represent the members of the congressional committee. Divide the rest of the class into groups based on their preferred use of the funds. One of these groups should represent NASA (and argue that the funds should be spent on the moon-Mars initiative), while other groups should represent non-governmental organizations that favor other uses of the funds, such as a non-profit that works to improve the quality of American education.

    Each group should present testimony to the committee explaining why the funds should be spent in its particular area of interest. After each group testifies, committee members should ask the group any follow-up questions they have. When all groups have testified, the committee should vote on how the funds should be used.

  2. Free enterprise in space.
    Working in small groups, select one of the following questions and research the answer: (a) Is it possible to buy property on the moon? (b) Can a private citizen get a ride on a space voyage, and if so, how? (c) Has the space program led to any commercial "spinoffs" -- that is, new consumer products that were made possible by technological advances made during the space program? (d) What kinds of private companies might some day set up business on the moon, or even on other planets? Report your findings to class.


History | Technology | Economics | Geography

  1. How long a trip?
    To reach the moon, Apollo 8 had to travel roughly a quarter of a million miles, a distance so great that it might be difficult to imagine. Hold a contest to see what member of your class can come up with the most interesting way to express this distance by comparing it to something else -- the circumference of Earth, the length of your town's Main Street or football field, and so on. After each class member presents his or her comparison to the class and demonstrates that it is mathematically correct, the class should vote on its favorite comparison.

  2. More than just a piece of cheese.
    Just as the sight of Earth from space has provoked strong emotional reactions, the sight of the moon can produce strong reactions as well. To see what your reactions are, go outside one night and look at the moon for at least one full minute; then write down a description of its appearance. Be as concrete and precise as possible, as though you were describing the moon to someone who had never seen it.

    Do the same thing for each of the next four nights, weather permitting. Then share your descriptions of the moon with the class. How did they change as you became more familiar with the sight of the moon? How did the appearance of the moon change over these five nights?

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