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To the Moon

Ideas from Teachers

(Gr. 6)
We (a Science teacher and an English teacher) teamed up in the 1999-2000 school year to work together to encourage young people to learn to read for information in a fictional work. We have incorporated several NOVA programs into this project.

When the project was first implemented, we taught 6th grade inner-city students. (After the science teacher transferred to another school, the project was carried out at both inner-city and suburban schools.)

We encouraged students to explore science and mathematic concepts while reading Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon in their science classes. Using engaging literary narratives and various technologies to conceptualize science and mathematics topics helped students better relate to the topics while paralleling them to America's historic journey to the moon.

Students were teamed to include both genders and all ethnic groups in creative and critical problem-solving tasks. These tasks included reading skills, writing skills, science knowledge questions, mathematic computations, appropriate displays in the use of mathematics, and building objects to solve problems. This was accomplished while using computers, Internet, video clips, audio clips, and archival information from the local public library microfiche files on the local newspaper's account of the historic lunar landing.

While girls traditionally have excelled in reading and writing and boys in science and mathematics, this project provided a common experience for both genders at two different middle schools to excel in a reading program that bridged these strengths and expanded the students' interests, talents, and opportunities.

Students were also teamed with their science and English teachers to engage in literary discussions that made the connection between the fictional 1865 Verne work and the 1969 lunar landing on the moon. Through NOVA's "To the Moon" program, students heard about President John F. Kennedy's pledge to land a man on the moon and accessed the full speech on the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library and Museum Web site and other sites containing Kennedy's speeches.

Students were quite surprised to see a similar declaration in Verne's science fiction work, From the Earth to the Moon (given by the President of the Gun Club, Impey Barbicane). Students were provided with a published version of this text (classroom sets purchased through a grant) and access to the text online at the Fourmilab Web site. Students were also introduced to Web sites about Verne, Alfred Nobel, Andrew Johnson (U.S. President during the fictional Verne story), and many NASA sites on the Apollo space program.

While reading the classic science fiction work, students gained hands-on experiences in the concepts of gravity, laws of motion, planetary motion, needs for space survival, and problem solving. Some of the activities included building containers to protect fragile contents, making flip books to animate lunar phases, making rockets, making impact craters on the moon, performing reading comprehension activities, doing science/reading vocabulary tests, and writing their own newspaper accounts of the lunar journey. This was done while the students were engaged in literary discussion groups to make connections between the book's characters and real-life people who contributed to America's journey to the moon.

The success of this unique reading venture led to a variety of responses: improved reading scores; greater interest in reading; the desire to read Verne's sequel to From the Earth to the Moon, titled Round the Moon; greater understanding of scientific concepts through real-life applications; hands-on activities and direct connection of the concepts to textual writings; and better writing skills as the students learned the techniques of engaging descriptive and narrative works.

Finally, we presented this lesson to teachers at a National Teacher Training Institute (NTTI) workshop sponsored by Thirteen WNET New York. In two years, more than 300 students participated in this reading program. We are anticipating 180 more in the coming school year.

The science teacher has used other literary works to supplement science lessons. For a unit on volcanoes and earthquakes, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Verne and NOVA's "The Day the the Earth Shook" program and "In the Path of a Killer Volcano" program were used. For a unit on hurricanes, Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson (about a 1990 Galveston hurricane) and NOVAs "Hurricane" program were chosen. And for a unit on the environment, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss was selected.

Editor's note: To read an extended description of this idea, see Featured Teachers.

Sent in by
Kathleen M. Poe, science teacher
Fletcher Middle School
Jacksonville Beach, FL

Jon Kern, Language Arts teacher
Kirby-Smith Middle School
Jacksonville, FL

I use NOVA's "To the Moon" program to understand the linkages between science, politics, and exploration. I teach a seminar, "Exploration of the American West," which uses these themes, especially with Lewis and Clark. The topics of planning, preparation, vision, patronage, gain (personal, national, spiritual, etc.) are very evident in this program.

Much of the space program is buried by what students find interesting, such as the counterculture, music, Vietnam, etc. It is also difficult for students to understand the "race" between the US and USSR. There is some impressive footage in the program about the Soviet space program which can spark their interest, but college freshmen or sophomores live half their lives without a perceived national threat from the Soviets. Since, most of post-war American politics and foreign politics are based upon the interplay—fear, loathing, competition, ambition—of the Soviets and the United States maybe this short program can be used to highlight some of this.

Sent in by
Tom Kirker
Allen County Community College
Bulingame, KS

Teacher's Guide
To the Moon

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