I have been on at least three space missions with my sixth grade class. No, I'm not an astronaut, and no, (sadly) I am not Ms. Frizzle. We have been able to join up with the International Space Station (ISS) via the Sally Ride EarthKAM program on several different occasions. EarthKAM, or Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students, is an educational outreach program provided by Sally Ride Science.
|An Earth image requested by my 6th grade. Sally Ride EarthKAM 2012|
Through EarthKAM students are able to request images of Earth from the ISS. These images are used to engage students in science, geography, math and much more. EarthKAM is a project created by Dr. Sally Ride, America's first woman in space. When Dr. Ride developed the program in 1995 it was named KidSat. The KidSat camera rode on three shuttle flights to test its abilities. In 1998 the program was renamed EarthKAM and the camera took two more shuttle trips before it moved to the ISS in 2001. When Sally Ride passed away in 2012 the program was renamed once again- Sally Ride EarthKAM. The EarthKAM camera is a permanent fixture on the ISS and makes about four missions each year. During these missions teachers and students are invited to join and make image requests.
EarthKAM is a wonderful program for many reasons. It is available to schools free of charge and the only necessary technology requirements are the internet and devices to open the website. Students are empowered and feel a sense of ownership when they request an image and see that the crew of the ISS took an image of Earth for them. A variety of learning opportunities may arise from taking part in a mission. These opportunities could include, but are certainly not limited to: further investigations of space and the ISS, learning Earth's geography through images, using mathematics to determine when and where the ISS will be when requesting an image, or understanding the size and scale of an Earth image, developing communication skills by writing to astronauts and exploring female scientists or careers in astronomy, etc. There are activities available on the website to help prepare and enrich the classroom experience of EarthKAM.
In my classroom we've used EarthKAM as part of the Astronomy unit. Studying about the ISS allows students to see that space exploration is real and current. We request images through EarthKAM, view and share them with one another when we receive them. Learning is extended by using Google Earth to understand location and scale. We discuss cloud and snow cover and how that impacts the image. This is a great extension of our participation in the NASA S'COOL program the previous year in fifth grade. We also gain a better understanding of what it means to be in "low Earth orbit". There are many other ways this program and the images it takes from space can be used across the curriculum or through integrated projects.
You, too, can be part of a space mission. The next EarthKAM mission is scheduled for January 27th-30th 2015. To participate in this mission, just sign your class up at the Sally Ride EarthKAM website. It is well worth the effort! I would love to hear about your experiences with the Sally Ride EarthKAM project. Comment below, or send me an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org