Cross-Divisional Project Sparks Curiosity for the Space Exploration Exhibit

The Space Exploration Exhibit is a cross-divisional collaborative project to spark curiosity about the vast universe and highlight the process of scientific discovery.  
The Space Exploration Exhibit is a cross-divisional collaborative project between St. Margaret’s Upper School astronomy students, Middle School astronomy club students, and grade 3 science students. The Space Exploration Exhibit displays hand-built physical models of past, present, and future space missions, and is specifically designed for Early and Lower School students to spark curiosity about the vast universe, invoke a sense of wonder about the unknown, and highlight the process of scientific discovery.  

The project was developed through an Innovation Summer Grant where teachers are provided an opportunity to spend time over the summer to work on innovative projects designed to enrich and elevate the student learning experience through experiential and interdisciplinary learning, the integration of emerging technologies into the curriculum, or creating opportunities for cross-divisional collaboration. 

The learning experience provides students a platform to prepare their imaginations for the future as Stephanie Capen, director of institutional research, remarks: "What's especially exciting about this project is that several of the space missions in the exhibit are set to happen in the next 10 to 30 years. These missions, that they first learn about now, will continue to unfold and new discoveries will be made throughout their lifetime.” 

The exhibit featured models of various targets in the Solar System which humans have explored or will explore with scientific instrumentation on spacecrafts. The astronomy students created models of the mission targets like planets, asteroids or moons, inspired by Middle School astronomy club designs, that illustrate the key scientific questions or discoveries of their selected space mission. The grade 3 students engineered small replicas of the mission-specific spacecraft.  

The exhibit dives into scientific questions and promotes discoveries and new learnings as Dr. Capen describes, “There is so much we still don't know about the universe; so much to wonder, and much yet to learn and discover. It reminds us that learning doesn't stop, and it's important that we continue to wonder, imagine, and live out lives of learning well beyond our years in school." 

Leading up to the exhibit, both Upper School astronomy students and grade 3 science students read books about the planets, creating and playing with spinning planet tops to illustrate planet rotation, and launching rockets to illustrate the concept of force and how we get spacecrafts to these far out worlds. 

The cross-divisional collaboration sparks more than just curiosity; it also ignites an opportunity to engage with each other as Mr. Beshk explains, “My Grade 3 students love the cross-divisional projects. Providing them with the opportunity to engage with and learn from the Upper School students is what makes St. Margaret’s Episcopal School incredibly special.”
The project began several weeks ago, as Dr. Capen's Upper School astronomy students conducted research on past, present, or future space missions such as Europa Clipper, Artemis, Cassini and New Horizons to name a few.  The Upper School astronomy students put together mission research briefs highlighting the type of mission, key facts about the mission target, and what students discovered or hoped to discover as a result of the space mission. 

The mission research briefs were delivered to Lower School science teacher Mr. Beshk's classroom, as part of the next phase. Grade 3 students were the engineers who designed a small replica of the spacecraft. The Middle School astronomy club, advised by Middle School science teacher Ashley Baffa, began researching the targets of each mission like Jupiter, Pluto, Titan, Saturn or the Moon, and designed a blueprint for a physical model of each target. The Upper School students worked on building the physical models of each mission target inspired by the Middle School astronomy club designs. 
As the Space Exploration Exhibit is intended for Early School-aged students, the Upper School astronomy students and Grade 3 science students conducted activities with the Early School students leading up to the exhibit day. This was a great opportunity for the Upper School students to build relationships with Early School students, and acquire a thorough perspective on how Early School students would experience the exhibit.

The Upper School astronomy students read a book called “8 Little Planets,” to Early School students, followed by an activity including coloring and playing with spinning planet tops designed by the Upper School students to illustrate the concept of rotation and how it related to the solar system. The following week, Mr. Beshk's grade 3 science students conducted a stomp rocket activity for Early School students, illustrating the concept of force and how we are able to send spacecraft into space.
The culmination of all the research, designing, building, and playing, is what makes the Space Exploration Exhibit a valuable experience. Last week, each Early School class and several Lower School classes walked through the exhibit with the opportunity to see and touch the models, while discovering and stimulating more interest about astronomy and the Solar System. 
Mr. Beshk expresses the lasting life lessons students will take with them beyond St. Margaret’s classrooms. “The relationships between the Lower and Upper School students will carry on throughout this year and more years to come. While walking to a special subject class or joining an all school ceremony, these Tartans will smile and say hi to each other, creating a deeper sense of community and empathy, priceless educational and life lessons.”

The Space Exploration Exhibit will be on display in Mr. Beshk's classroom at the upcoming STEAM Expo on Saturday, April 20.
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