Future Reflections        Convention Report 2012

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Out of This World

by David Hurd

From the Editor: Dr. David Hurd is a professor of geosciences at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. With his colleague, Dr. Cass Runyon, a professor of geosciences at the College of Charleston, he conducted a series of workshops called "Out of This World" with children in NFB Childcare.

David Hurd leads an activity to help children understand the relationships between the sun and the planets.During the 2012 NFB convention in Dallas, my colleague, Cass Runyon, and I shared the wonders of space with a group of blind and sighted children in NFB Childcare. This opportunity was made possible through the innovative education and public outreach programs sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. Cass and I directed several sessions with the children, each involving a lesson on space science. Activities included discovering how much a can of Coke weighs on the moon and the various planets, and learning how the atmosphere of each planet is different. Using tactile materials and models, the children learned about our solar system and even participated in a "planetary fashion show." They discovered the obvious and subtle differences between Earth, Earth's moon, and Mars, and learned about the distances between them.

To help the kids better understand the relative sizes of and distances between the planets, we gave them the opportunity to explore our book, A Tactile Guide to the Solar System. Written by Cass and me and published by NASA, the book incorporates text and tactile graphics.

We have also written two other Braille and tactile books published by NASA. The new books highlight the surfaces of the moon and Mars. Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters explores the craters and crater types on the moon. Each tactile illustration is accompanied by a detailed description and includes a scale centimeter bar. The bar allows blind and sighted learners to estimate crater diameter and depth. This book combines math and discovery without the student even knowing that she/he is doing math and science.

With the help of tactile illustrator John Matelock, Cass and I set out to make the tactile pictures "feel like they look." This process entailed the use of an assortment of materials to make up the masters for the tactile graphics. The graphics were beta tested on a carefully selected group of blind individuals, some gifted tactile readers and some novices. All of them had some background in science. The testing helped the development team tweak each illustration until it feels the way it actually looks and appropriately displays the book's science content.

Each child who participated in the "Out of This World" sessions was given a copy of the newest book to take home. Each of the books includes a CD with the text in an accessible PDF and a professionally recorded audio file. The books are also available with full large-print and Braille text upon request. The books are produced by a company called Haptically Speaking. They can be ordered from <www.hapticallyspeaking.com>. Each title is also available in Braille Ready File format (BRF). The books are distributed free of charge. If interested in a BRF file, contact me at [email protected] or Cass Runyon at [email protected] to request a copy.

Julia Gebert examines a book about the craters of the moon. A third book introduced to the workshop participants was just completed this year. It includes an overview of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity Rover, the spacecraft that is now exploring Mars. Through detailed descriptions and five tactile illustrations, readers are introduced to the surface features on Mars and to Gale crater, where Curiosity Rover landed in July.

As anyone can feel, Gale crater stands in stark contrast to the moon's craters explored in Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters. The children quickly discovered that the central peak of Gale is much higher than the crater rims. This is not the case with any craters found on the moon. The Mars tactile book goes on to give a tactile and written explanation of how such a mountain might form inside a crater. It is always fun to see the lightbulbs come on in a person's head when he or she is allowed to explore independently. We try to use an inquiry approach to science. Instead of simply telling students the answers, we let them discover through guided instruction.

Our next project is a tactile book that will highlight the rocks and minerals found on the moon. These minerals have been identified by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, an instrument aboard the orbiter Chandrayaan-1. Discussion is also underway about developing a tactile book that will highlight Pluto and the New Horizon mission, scheduled to reach Pluto in 2015. Another book might summarize the findings of the Mars Science Laboratory.

In closing, here is a hands-on lesson on how much a can of Coke weighs on the various planets. Although some knowledge of math and the concept of gravity are important for a full understanding, this exercise is simplified for all.

What you will need:
An unopened can of Coke
9 empty pop cans
a LOT of BBs

What you do:
Fill each of the empty pop cans with enough BBs so that the weight (in grams) is close to the number given below:
Mercury, 146g
Venus, 349g
Earth, 383g (approximate mass of unopened can of Coke)
Earth's moon 65g
Mars 146g
Jupiter  820g
Saturn  406g
Uranus 329g
Neptune 421g
Pluto 31g

A scale at a local grocery store works well for this!

This activity is great for tactile learning and gives students a better understanding of the differences found throughout our solar system.

Happy exploring!

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