A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit in on a NASA Digital Learning Network program with a fourth grade class that ironically was located about fifteen minutes away from me.  Scott Anderson, a DLN Coordinator at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, taught a module about Toys in Space. The program focuses on forces and motion and consists of an investigation of what toys will work in a microgravity environment (such as space).

Did you know that a boomerang actually works in space? It’s because the looping path a boomerang follows is actually the result of the uneven forces exerted by the air they travel through and not the influence of gravity.

For each segment, a short video of an astronaut using a toy, such as a jump rope, is shown to the class. After the video, the instructor gave a brief explanation as to why the toy did or did not work in space. In the jump rope’s case it is because of the law of motion; an object in motion will stay in motion until something (usually gravity) causes it to stop.

The instructor then poses the question to the class, what could be done to modify the toy to perform better in space? After a flurry of raised hands, the teacher selects a few students to answer the question. My favorite answer for the jump rope was magnet boots. When you jump up the magnets pull you back down similar to gravity (smart fourth grader!).

After the lesson is completed, the students have the opportunity to ask questions about the lesson or NASA programs.  For example, what animal has gone into space the most? The answer is the squirrel monkey although France did send a cat into space one time.

Overall, the program was extremely interesting and the kids were well behaved and actively engaged.  I learned a lot of interesting tidbits so I imagine the children learned a lot from the class as well.  It’s great to take a break from typical lessons and learning channels (or work day) and learn something new!

Watch the below video for a sample of one of NASA’s DLN programs where they connect Mission Control with students in Georgia.