A journey into space

Our district has been given a microgravity experiment chamber and cargo space aboard a rocket travelling to the International Space Station.  That rocket will dock with the ISS and deliver the experiment to the astronauts living in the microgravity environment.  While there, an astronaut will carry out the specific instructions of the experiment. Finally, the experiment chamber will be loaded up for transport back to earth.  Meanwhile, the same experiment will be completed back in British Columbia.  The control group and the experimental space group will be compared and the effects of microgravity on the contents of the experimental chamber will be analyzed.

Sounds fictional, doesn’t it?  But it’s actually true!  The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) allows students to participate in a real-life science process.  And real life science is competitive.  There is one spot for which hundreds of groups compete.  And I have students who really want to have that spot.

It is an amazing opportunity!  The big question is how do we best steward this opportunity?  How do we maximize our talents?  How do teams in my class get to be the ones who have their experiment taken to space?

If there is one thing I know from my work with Connections-based Learning, we can’t do this alone.  We used the Connections-based Learning lens to guide us as we created our experiments.  The Collaborate component is not meant to be a prescription but is to be used as a guide to leverage the connected world to learn.  Each facet reminds us how making connections can be part of the learning process.  To create a great SSEP experiment, making connections must be part of the plan.

Immediately we got down to the business of design.
Using pages in our OneNote Class Notebook, students grouped up and began to brainstorm ideas about possible experiments.  What do we as a global community need to know about microgravity?  What are we curious about regarding gravity?  What even whacky ideas do we have that we could try? OneNote documents were created for groups of three students and each student would add to the document from their devices.

On another OneNote Class Notebook page, students were asked questions about some of the non-negotiables of their collaboration.  Goals and collaboration principles were established.

As students searched through websites to see what has gone before, some contacted groups who had previously participated in the SSEP.  Here is an excerpt from one of the student’s blogs:

"d) i. We found the name of the science teacher who was helping with the experiment, Susan Brown from Northland Preparatory Academy. She was very helpful and answered our questions in an email. We asked her how they stored their experiment when it went into space. Her response: 'We used the FME configuration where we had two clips/three compartments. One compartment held seeds in cotton, the second held water, and the third held ethanol.' In her email she said that it was kept like this until two weeks into the experiment, when the astronaut had to open the first clip, which allowed water to flow into the seeds/cotton compartment. He had to shake the FME as well. Right before they were to send the experiment back to her and her class, they had the astronaut release the ethanol to stop all growth. She also said that in the end the..."
Some connected with Simon Fraser University students to guide them as the students teased out meaningful questions to explore in a microgravity environment.  As they emailed back and forth, students were able to build ideas about possible experiments.

Students were able to attend an SSEP gathering at Heritage Woods Secondary where they made even more connections with experts.
Before the creation of an experiment could take place, students needed to develop competencies and skills in certain areas.  I had to teach some students about the effects of different acids while some needed to learn about bacteria.  We used agar plates to gather and experiment on bacteria.  Students also examined what had gone on before during the SSEP flights.  Each group studied a previous mission to glean important information to guide them in their own experiment.  In the end, the students created an experiment of their own and began to write up their proposal to submit to the SSEP committee.

​​Agar plates in a temperature-controlled environment

Students continued to document their process.  They took pictures that they will later publish on their blogs.  They kept track of emails they sent and information that they received back from collaborators.  And as much as possible (this is a competition, after all! ) they worked out loud, making connections with university students, other teachers, and the teacher librarian.  All this will be published after the competition in their digital portfolios where students, teachers, and parents can read and comment.

Soon the winning experiment will be chosen and we will find out if one of our groups will be sending an experiment into space.  Regardless of the outcome, participating in the SSEP experience was amazing and throughout the process, learning happened.  That learning will be celebrated and shared out to support future SSEP participants.  Moreover, the meaningful learning relationships students made will be connections they can tap into for the future as they curate their learning network.  This is Connections-based Learning.


Sean Robinson is a High School Science and Digital Literacy Teacher at Riverside Secondary School in Port Coquitlam.  He is the creator of Connections-based Learning and has been enjoying using OneNote Class Notebook to promote collaboration in his classroom.  Read his blog at seanrtech.blogspot.ca.
You can get more information about OneNote and the innovative ways that teachers are using our tools at the Microsoft Educator Community. If you’re curious about how to start down the path to becoming a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, find all the details here.