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Learning by Doing: A Teacher's Perspective
Human-Rover Partnership
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The student intern program has afforded my students an opportunity to sit along side scientist, engineers, and technicians as they conduct a field test with the prototype Mars rover, FIDO. The field test is conducted as a real-time, actual mission that does not allow replay or fudging on reality. The test is real, the people are real, the stress is real, the consequences are authentic, and objectives are dynamic. Sitting in the middle of all of this, the students are learning.

Working as part of the science team is a great learning environment because it addresses three learning styles at once. Visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners all benefit from the mission planning, data acquisition, and science interpretation process. Visual learners see imagery of geological formations through the eyes of the rover's cameras. They study spectra to understand spectrometer readings acquired on rocks and the atmosphere. Cutting-edge technology allows the students to see topography using 3D panoramic posters. Science planning software is used to look at topography from multiple perspectives in three dimensions. Visual learners also see professionalism and social interaction of team dynamics exhibited by some of the best. Student interest is obvious as they watch the team at work.

Along with seeing, the auditory learners are listening to every word, as the scientists, engineers, and technicians interact. The team members interact with the students, one on one many times, explaining concepts related to their areas of expertise. Lessons are taught in geology, mineralogy, soil studies, spectroscopy, and robotics. Students listen to open discussions, reflections, reviews, and summations of technical and scientific exchanges. Hearing professionals negotiate for limited resources of time, energy, and bandwidth, exhibits the way compromise can be accomplished when a group is able to focus on the big picture as well as their own areas of knowledge.

Students are seeing the process, hearing the process and doing the process of exploring Mars. It's the action that really captures the kinesthetic learners. The students have responsibilities to the test mission. They provide visual aids and assimilate data for the scientists during and between each sol. Some examples of the students' work are generating spectral libraries, analyzing acquired spectra, creating panoramic posters from the rover's images and labeling the landmarks as identified by various scientists, and creating posters showing resource allotments. Students also shadow and work with various scientists and engineers as they go about the daily business of a field test.

These students will never be the same. At some time in their immediate future they will point to the Mars Exploration Rover project and be able to say, " I helped in the preparation for that mission". They will go home having made a small mark in the history of space along with the thousands of individuals working to achieve success in this monumental endeavor. The fact that the students say this has changed their future tells me as an educator that they have learned.

-- David Worley

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Last Updated: 05 September 2002

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