Part 1: For my week, I really want to focus on math related to space exploration. I have a ton of thoughts and ideas, but I’m a little worried that the focus is too much on the science and not enough on the math, so any feedback on whether this is too much science and not enough math is welcome! As I mentioned in the original post about our topic ideas and one of our group meetings, I really love how NASA and other space related organizations/individuals are using social media to connect with young people in their language. One example is this recent tweet by the official Curiosity Rover twitter about how to take selfies on Mars, which I think is both hilarious and very smart.
One of my thoughts that I mentioned in week three was to somehow use current space missions as a source of learning opportunities for math and physics. The New Horizons spacecraft (which also has a twitter) is scheduled to reach Pluto in 2015, and this website is a rich source of information and data about the mission. In response to my original post, Dr. Droujkova talked about how NASA is very dedicated to openness and even provides raw data to the public, so I think there are many ways to create math activities and projects that are not only related to space exploration in general but are also related to real-life current space missions.
Part 2: An ongoing controversy related to space travel is whether or not it is important enough to warrant public funding. There is a constant fight for funding of curiosity driven science because the benefits are not easily quantified or immediately realized. Just yesterday, I read this article about the Large Hadron Collider and how understanding quantum physics is related to understanding the universe, and I was completely blown away by all the comments on the article talking about what a waste of money this project is.
I don’t know if anyone is familiar with Brian Cox, but he’s a particle physicist who works on the Large Hadron Collider and an outspoken proponent of the importance of science funding, in particular, curiosity driven science. Here is a video of him giving a TedTalk about the importance of space exploration. My husband and I are both fans of Brian Cox (he’s hosted a couple documentaries that we really enjoyed about space and the world around us – Wonders of the Universe, Wonders of the Solar System, and the currently airing Wonders of Life) and after reading that article and all the negative comments yesterday, we had a long talk about the general public’s disconnect between funding for something like the LHC and real benefits to humanity, when the reality is that that kind of research could quite literally change the world in ways we haven’t conceived of yet.
The controversy of funding for space programs and other curiosity driven science is related to both public interest and politics, which is why I think the way NASA gets into kids’ spaces and speaks their language is so smart since those kids are the general public and politicians of tomorrow. A lot of kids love space when they’re little (how many five-year-olds want to be an astronaut when they grown up?) but that interest seems to fade over time. But if NASA can sustain that interest as kids get older and help instill a lifelong interest in space exploration, those kids will be a lot more likely to support funding for space programs when they become adults. I love the idea of incorporating space exploration in my math and physics classes because not only does it help sustain interest in space, but by connecting projects to real data and current missions, it makes math and science relevant and useful.
I’m going to be teaching both math and physics, so I love the idea of projects and activities related to space exploration since there are so many opportunities for both subjects. For math classes, I would want to keep the context of current real-life space exploration, but the activities could be tailored in such a way that the learning is focused on math topics.