This story blew me away. This is the way students should learn.
Thirteen seventh- and eighth-graders at Potomac School signed up for a science elective. They were given the challenge: Take a photo of the curvature of the Earth and spend just $200 to do it. Quite a challenge, right? (I’m not sure I could figure this one out!) Well, guess what, they did.
The students met twice a week throughout the year to conquer the problem. They started with a digital camera which they programmed to take photos and video several times a minute. Then, they bought a cell phone that had a GPS function and installed software that relayed the phone’s location to the Internet using a program called InstaMapper. Since the stratosphere would be 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, the students placed the phone and camera in a cooler with hand warmers. Finally, the students needed to determine at what angle to hang the cooler so that the camera would get shots of the Earth’s edge, not just clouds. The plan? The balloon would rise above the clouds and in the thinner atmosphere, the lack of pressure would cause the balloon to expand from six to 15 feet in diameter and eventually pop. Then the device would fall to the Earth with a small parachute.
Come launch day, the students drove to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. One student brought his dad’s iPad which they used to connect to the Internet and follow the balloon. After the balloon rose above the clouds, the cell phone signal faded. The students constantly checked the iPad to see if the signal returned. It did, three hours later, marking the device’s reentry. The students followed the tracking and found the orange parachute on the other side of Chesapeake Bay. When they checked the camera, they found amazing pictures of the Earth’s curvature. Mission accomplished. Simply incredible. Talk about building problem-solving, critical-thinking, science, and math skills while harnessing the power of technology!