Late at night on February 5th I read an article about the imminent launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. With a little luck and unfavorable launch conditions, the most perfectly timed lesson I would ever teach could happen the next day during my Bridge to College English class. Kind of like reading Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene on Valentine’s Day, the launch of Falcon Heavy could not have come at a better time for my current unit.
By this time in a school year, I usually begin to see the hints of senioritis glazing over their eyes, but not this time.
Two weeks earlier, my class began a Bridge to College module: “The New Space Race.” This module — designed by teachers in Eastern Washington — is high interest and relevant. Both my students and I enjoy this unit as we study a science topic through the critical lens of language and literature. Students read multiple science articles about space travel and are in book study groups that include Hidden Figures, The Martian, Ender’s Game, and Hitchhiker’s Guide the the Galaxy. I chose to incorporate several portions of Mars which have both fiction and non-fiction elements integrated in the series about colonization.
Many students completed their book for study groups weeks ahead of schedule. One student finished Ender’s Game and is well into a third book in the series, having read Speaker of the Dead over the course of a few days. Students who enjoyed The Martian as a movie are discussing the math of the novel.
On February 6, Falcon Heavy was set to launch during a four hour window. All morning I anxiously hoped for a delay. If I got incredibly lucky, the Falcon Heavy would launch somewhere between 12:30 and 1:10 PST, a narrow window during which my English class could watch the launch live. As the day progressed, I had SpaceX’s video feed waiting on my desktop, fingers crossed. When my seniors entered their Bridge to College class that day, they did not know they were going to find their English teacher geeking on space-travel, ridiculously excited to share this experience with them. The stars aligned and my students and I watched the launch of Falcon Heavy together, and they marveled at the coordinated return of two of the three rockets. By marveled I mean students said typical teenage things like “Whoa” and “Now, that was cool.”
After the launch we discussed the nature in which the video was produced–appealing to a youthful audience of idealists eager to work with the company– and watched more of the Mars episode we were currently watching. I had unintentionally left off at a 2016 Elon Musk interview and within a few minutes of that interview another engineer essentially called Elon Musk’s plan impossible. Further geeking on my part ensued as I discussed the speed of technology.
It was powerful for students to realize they had just watched not only a vital advancement in space travel, but also the “impossible” happen.
Then, we did exactly what SpaceX wanted us to do: look at the company’s list of open positions. Engineer to machinist to welder, students saw the many ways their interests would fit at this company.
What More Units Should Have
Teacher passion: I have always loved the topic of space exploration in the form of science and science-fiction. Students saw my excitement for this in a way that I haven’t shown in other units for awhile. I need to redo some units in order to get fired up again. How can I be this excited about Hamlet again?
Skills from multiple content areas: The unit is not just drawing on skills from writing, literary and informational ELA standards. While those are many, students also practiced skills from Math, NextGen and Common Career Technical Core. For example CCTC has students “Consider the environment, social and economic impacts of decisions.” This is essentially the essay topic at the end of the unit.
Integrated content: Interesting readings and materials are not enough to make a unit successful. The integrated nature of this module is what makes it so powerful. Cross-curricular in content and appealing to the imagination, students are applying critical reading skills to a science topic that is forward thinking and stretches into their future.
Relevance and Career Connection: Students realized that astronauts portrayed on Mars would be among the high school students of today and their generation will be the one that must take the lead in exploring space travel. They learned that they — small town kids at a school among wheat fields — have talents a company like SpaceX needs.
I enjoy working with teachers to pool our collective ideas and talents.To fill my teaching bucket in this way, I participate in the ESD 101 ELA Fellows, lead a community of practice for Bridge to College and enjoy working with the CorelaborateWa teachers.
I am in my twelfth year teaching; two doors down the hall, my husband is in his second year as an AgEd teacher and FFA adviser . Our two young daughters, 8 and 5, keep us crazy-- I mean busy--as we juggle 4-H, dance, basketball, t-ball and more.
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