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