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September 27, 2022

Shuttle sparks interest in science

Burnett fifth graders learn in classroom space module
simulator
When fifth graders from Steve Caracciolo’s class at Burnett Elementary left the classroom at the end of this year, they may have been more reluctant to leave the classroom than many other students; after all, they were leaving behind their space station.

“This is something that has developed over three or four years,” Caracciolo said of the elaborate module that he says helps to stimulate students’ interest in science. “I’ve worked on it little by little, adding something and improving it a little each year.”

The module is fitted with a computer, a DVD player, a microwave, a microscope and a ventilation system. Students enter by a portal in the side of the module, and once inside, they experience some of what astronauts on the space shuttle go through, minus the zero gravity effect.

“It really feels like you are isolated, like the astronauts, when you are in there,” said 10-year-old Consuelo Lucachin. “We worked on the crystals, finding out how they grow, and it was interesting.”

The student “crew” manning the space station was responsible for checking the weather daily, monitoring ongoing experiments and updating the logbook.

“Now we have to find out the weather for Morgan Hill and for Alaska,” said Cody Coleman, another 10-year-old crew member. “When the Iditerod was going on there, that was one of our projects.”

Burnett holds its own Iditerod with teams of students designing their own sleds in imitation of the famous cross-country dogsled race held annually in Alaska.

Tying their work in the space station to real life plays a part in the success of the project. Caracciolo has cleverly placed a video screen in the floor of the module, which plays DVDs of views of earth from space, so as students are in the module, the atmosphere is realistic.

“With the ventilation system running, the door closed and the DVD on, it is possible to imagine yourself to actually be in the space station,” he said. “I’ve never had a student that was claustrophobic, but I do tell them they can leave the hatch open if they would like.”

A camera was also installed inside the module, with the monitor outside in the classroom, so Caracciolo can keep an eye on the students. But, he said, the students generally seem to be very serious about the work they do inside the module, and he didn’t install the camera for disciplinary reasons, but more for student safety.

And how to fairly divide the time among all the students clamoring to be a part of the crew? Caracciolo said he considered having a “crew of the month,” but he settled on a more flexible rotation so all students will have an opportunity to experience the station.

To incorporate a simulated space station into his curriculum was an idea he tossed around for a long time, he said, because he always wanted to be an astronaut. Exposing students to the possibilities science has to offer and getting students excited about having fun with science were goals for Caracciolo.

“I know I would have enjoyed something like this when I was in fifth grade,” he said. “I hope this will spark an interest in at least some of them, to go on and get more involved with space or science. And for the others, I just want them to see that science is fun.”

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