When we grow up we’re typically told the facts about the world around us without ever really getting involved with discovering for ourselves. I remember looking through a book on planets and space complete with illustrations and pictures of various celestial objects when I was young and being fascinated. But again, everything was learned facts and some were expected to be regurgitated on tests later on. While this is just the style of accepted education, it is far less superior to actual involvement from the students/child.
Let me explain what I mean: For example, take this picture of Saturn. Yes, we’re taught that Saturn is a planet and is very far away (1.2-1.6 billion kilometers from Earth). We are also taught that it is a very large planet – you can easily fit 763 Earth-sized planets inside. These are easy facts to throw around, but for it to really ‘drive home’ the scale of distance vs. size, there’s nothing like viewing Saturn (or any other planet!) for yourself through a telescope. I remember pointing my newly minted 8″ Dobsonian reflector at the distant world named after the God of Time and being absolutely captivated. I had suddenly grasped a new perspective; it wasn’t a picture in a book, it wasn’t just inked out facts, I was looking at the real thing for myself.
It was through the motions of personal involvement that I finally understood the immense distances and sizes involved. I must have followed Saturn for hours, enjoying my new sense of perspective on things.
This easily translates to just about any subject one wishes to address – such as history. One more example…
When teaching young children about the United States Constitution, there are a couple different ways of going about it. When I was in grade school we were taught the facts of what happened and required to regurgitate them later on exams. There was no involvement at all, and so thorough understanding of why things went the way they did was lost.
There is one method which would not only teach what the constitution says, but why it did and did not do certain things. The following is an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World” describing the Kunitz Method:
“Want the students to understand the Constitution of the United States? You could have them read it, Article by Article, and then discuss it in class but, sadly, this will put most of them to sleep. Or you could try the Kunitz method: you forbid the students to read the Constitution. Instead, you assign them, two for each state, to attend a Constitutional Convention. You brief each of the thirteen teams in detail on the particular interests of their state and region. The South Carolina delegation, say, would be told of the primacy of cotton, the necessity and morality of the slave trade, the danger posed by the industrial north, and so on. The thirteen delegations assemble, and with a little faculty guidance, but mainly on their own, over some weeks write a constitution. Then they read the real Constitution. The students have reserved war-making powers to the President. The delegates of 1787 assigned them to Congress. Why? The students have freed the slaves. The original Constitutional Convention did not. Why? This takes more preparation by the teachers and more work by the students, but the experience is unforgettable. It’s hard not to think that the nations of the Earth would be in better shape if every citizen went through a comparable experience.”
Involvement is a far better tool for teaching and understanding the world around us. Perspectives can be shifted from knowing something to understanding something if we put a little more effort into education.
“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
The distribution of funds through the US government needs a change, and fast. NASA currently runs on just half-a-penny on the dollar from the tax payers. Look at what we can accomplish with that pitiful amount and think about what WILL be possible if that amount was raised to just a penny. The only limiting factor with what’s possible is the amount of money funneled into NASA; it has been said that for every dollar you invest into space exploration you get back ten. Sounds like a worth-while investment to me, doesn’t it to you?
We’re all bombarded with “the war on terror” and other fear-mongering political statements bent on pitting country against country. After all, fear was the main driving factor behind the Moonshot in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It is the year 2012 – hate, mistrust, fear; ALL of these should have been long-gone and the differences between people reconciled to come together. We should have been to Mars by now. Not at a singular country – bent on flexing their powerful political muscles – but as a consortium of nations hand-in-hand wanting to explore the universe as a collective species and not as rivaled tribes, trying to “one-up” the other.
When it comes to politics, this issue reaches down into my very being as being one of the most important things that we have to change. NASA’s budget has been steadily declining over the years. At one point it was easy to get money for space missions – it was literally handed out like candy. But now we’ve gone from pioneering adventures to the Moon with our eyes set on Mars to no longer sending up any manned missions; not even the shuttle. All important launches are now outsourced to other countries and up-and-coming private industries, such as Space-X.
However, every new venture requires a catalyst. Take the Cold War, for example; I would argue that if not for the arms race between Soviet Russia and the United States, we probably wouldn’t have visited the Moon by now. It’s unfortunate that a conflict was necessary to build a space program but it is what it is. Now the most important thing is to sustain that program, develop it more and continue our exploration. No one wants another conflict to spark further exploration, so it is vital that political walls and differences between countries are broken down. Combine technologies, ideas and expertise and split the costs of exploration.
We, as a species, gain knowledge and understanding via exploration of our universe and surroundings, something you can’t put a price on. So, in essence, when we suppress exploration we are supporting ignorance. Please visit Penny4NASA to see what you can do to help.
Many Americans have a favorite sports team; teams for whom they cheer when they take on rivals. When a group of people congregate to root on their favorite football team, say in a local pub, the energy involved and the sense of camaraderie experienced can be spine-chilling. Even if the sports team loses, the sense of connection remains and is still indescribable; through ups and downs all leading up to the point to where your team has either succeed or they have not.
This is how I see the state of affairs when it comes to NASA and their quests into space. When Curiosity lands on Mars on August 5th, do you think every-day people are going to be out at a local pub eagerly watching the big screen TVs? Every time there is a mission such as this, it is the football equivalent of throwing a Hail-Mary pass blindfolded from the 1-yard line of your own end zone into heavy coverage with one second left in the game, down 7 points and still needing a 2-point conversion to pull out the win. Very difficult, but not impossible if you know what you’re doing, and it is stupefying that so few people know about it or care to watch it.
Missions like this are the ultimate nail-biter that every football nut loves and actively seeks. There is no “Team NASA”. In that I mean it seems as if there are very few hard-core fans of our own ability to do these difficult and wondrous things. I wish that pioneering events such as these were taken into the public eye much more and appreciated. Major network stations won’t air these events and so they go unnoticed.
I truly wish that I could walk into my local brew pub (packed to the brim) on the 5th with all the TVs airing the events as they happen. I would like to be able raise my glass to the success or failure of the mission with dozens of other like-minded fanatics, just as I would in supporting my Alma Mater.
During the formation of the Andes Mountains, a lake was born on a high plateau, called Lake Minchin. This paleo-lake is located in southwest Bolivia and sprawls out over 4,000 square miles. It has since dried up into two small lakes and two salt lakes, the largest of which is Salar de Uyuni. A world supplier of borax and lithium, this marvelous area is better know for a phenomenon that causes wonder and awe.
Every year the neighboring lake, Titicaca, overflows and discharges into Lake Poopó which in turn floods the Salar de Uyuni. The water depth ranges from a few centimeters to meters and produces a pristine mirror image.
Photo by Takaki Watanabe
On August 5th, 2012, a 2,000 pound rover by the name of Curiosity will land on Mars. This is NASA’s biggest and most expensive journey to Mars with little margin for error. Traveling over 13,000 miles per hour, Curiosity will slam into the Martian atmosphere to dissipate its velocity. A parachute will then deploy to slow its decent even more until the probe will physically lower the rover via cable and fire retro-rockets to gently place it on the surface. After it has successfully landed, the probe will shoot off to crash a safe distance away.
Sounds simple, right? Well, NASA’s team of scientists call this the “7 Minutes of Terror”. By the time they receive confirmation that Curiosity is about to enter the atmosphere, the rover itself will already be on the ground or have crash-landed. This is due to the amount of time radio signals take to travel from Mars to Earth (roughly 15 minutes one-way).
I am personally very excited for this tremendous event! At 7 feet tall, 9 feet wide and 10 feet long, the rover hosts an impressive array of gadgets that will help us to understand our neighboring planet, and hopefully confirm the presence of ancient life. That is, if all goes well….
For more information: http://phys.org/news/2012-07-mars-rover-human-approach.html
This is a fantastic video! Stunning beauty that only a select few will ever get to see, at least at this moment in time. Hurtling around the Earth at 17,500mph (nearly 5 miles per second), gazing down upon the Auroras and looking out into the Milky Way Galaxy.
Humans are barraged with centrisms their entire life, but when one understands the true scale of things, all of those centrisms come crashing down like a house of cards. It is a great lesson in humility when one confronts the beautiful truths the universe has to offer. The problem is getting people to open up and want to understand and learn. But once you overcome that obstacle the domino effect takes over: The thrill of understanding something for the first time is sought more and more. For me, it’s analogous to adrenaline junkies, but for ones mind. And just like adrenaline junkies, not everyone wants to be one (or they can’t for various fears).
All that one can do is share experiences and try to get others involved and engaged. Once you open that door for someone, showing them the wonderful and exciting things about the universe that is hitherto unknown, you’ve become a teacher. You’ve now aided someone in the learning and understanding of concepts — which at one point you yourself didn’t grasp — which builds you as a person. Passing on knowledge (as well as adding more to the pile) is the essence of science; it is a body of knowledge and provides a way of thinking.
Every one of us goes from being a student (about the world or life in general) and ultimately to becoming a teacher. Passion is what fuels any good teacher, be it of morals, history and, you guessed it, science.