Tour through the Solar System

Introduction

Aloha and thank you for your interest in The Tour Through the Solar System Curriculum. It was conceived as an idea to promote science learning in a stimulating learning environment using inspirational data. Our aim in developing this curriculum was to inspire and engage students by combining Problem-Based Learning as our primary instructional strategy with stimulating NASA data sets.

The structure of the classes is to teach problem-solving skills and critical-thinking skills using various involvement-learning techniques. Pre-lesson warm-up questions are assigned to initiate the learning process. They are designed to help students develop the skills necessary for critical thinking, inquiry, and problem solving by engaging their brain about that day's lesson even before they enter the classroom [Luo, 2008]. Lectures are kept short, under 20-minutes. During lecture, ideas and concepts are introduced but student participation and cooperative learning is encouraged. Involving students in discussion fosters retention of information better than lectures [Gardiner, 1998; Yuretich et al., 2001]. Lastly a majority of the class time is spent doing a laboratory assignment based on the lecture. These different class components stimulate the full array of different approaches to learning and communicating (e.g., Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic [Fleming and Mills, 1992]). This multi-element Problem-Based Learning technique increases students' skills in problem solving and deductive reasoning, by giving them a chance to apply lecture knowledge to new situations, and as a result, develop critical thinking skills. In addition, this course will give students the opportunity to uncover knowledge they already have, and to discover more about the world around them and the systems that regulate it.

To this end we developed a curriculum that is comprised of (1) sequential classroom lesson plans with spiraling learning outcomes (Table 1), (2), hands-on laboratory experiments supplemented with the latest NASA mission materials that we as scientists work with, and (3) teacher tutorials. These activities will educate as they promote new knowledge acquisition and strengthen individuals' Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics skills. We packaged these lessons into a coherent theme of planetary science and exploration and have aligned them to national science and mathematics education standards.

The curriculum was developed for a six-week summer session of Upward Bound. The target age for these lessons is high school (9-12); however, it could also be used for advanced junior high or the difficulty level increased for upper high school students or freshman college level classes. We also developed the curriculum with flexibility in mind. For instance, each of the individual lessons can be taught as a stand-alone lesson or parts of the whole six-week class can be taught. Lessons are constructed with modular capabilities, so a single class can fill a two and a half hour time period or a forty-five minute timeframe.

We hope you enjoy using the curriculum either a la carte or in its entirety, and we also welcome your feedback.

Best Reagards,
The Tour Through the Solar System Curriculum Team
(Jeffrey Gillis-Davis, Joe Ciotti and Sarah Sherman)

References:
Fleming, N. D., and C. Mills (1992), Not Another Inventory, Rather a Catalyst for Reflection, To Improve the Academy, 11, 137-155.
Gardiner, L. F. (1998), Why We Must Change: The Research Evidence, Thought & Action, 14(1), 71-88.
Luo, W. (2008), Just-in-Time-Teaching (JiTT) improves students perofrmance in classes - Adaptation of JiTT in four college courses, Journal of Geoscience Education, 56(2), 166-171.
Yuretich, R. F., et al. (2001), Active-learning methods to improve student performance, Journal of Geoscience Education, 49(2), 111-119.