My students will participate in a video conference with real space scientists at 2 this afternoon. It’s a first for me, for them and as far as I know, for the school.
The Cassini imaging team at the Jet Propulsion Lab sponsors a contest each year, which challenges students to write short essays relevant to the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan. This year, the challenge was to argue why the team should choose one of four possible targets for a 91-minute imaging sequence. The essays could be no longer than 500 words, and students could work in teams of not more than four members.
Among the 188 essays accepted for judging were our 13 submissions. On Friday, I received two identical emails telling me that one of our essays had made to the final judging round, and inviting our students to an hour-long teleconference/video conference with the Cassini scientists this week.
I was excited enough to photocopy the message and hand it to my 34 students as they took a scheduled chapter test. Some admitted to being excited; others were outwardly more blasé, but apparently intrigued at least.
Having never organized a video conference before, I had to take a crash course by surfing the Internet. After frantically reading all kinds of information, asking an alumni parent for some corporate-America help and downloading a copy of CuSeeMe, I emailed the Cassini team for advice.
Turns out we can do the whole thing with iChat. Thank you, Apple Computers!
So, this afternoon, I am bringing down one of the eMAcs from the 4th-floor digital photo/video lab, hooking up a USB webcam and assembling the kids in my classroom for our conference with real scientists, some of whom are not that much older than my high school students. [We may actually instead use a student’s Mac laptop, since it has a built-in iSight camera and video-out port. I’d like to project the conference on the wall instead of forcing the kids to squint at the eMAC’s 15-inch screen.]
I have no clear idea what to expect from the conference, since there is no agenda apparently. Other schools will be participating at the same time by telephone, so we will only be part of a larger contingent of students, but the virtual contact with real people in space science will still be educational, and I hope influential on the students’ mental images of what scientists are like.
Sometime today, we are supposed to hear who made to the finals, and on Friday, the team will announce the two overall winners of the contest. I have no idea what the prize, if any, is. But I for one don’t really care. The important part of the whole project is that the kids can see an immediate reward for their hard work, and that others outside our littel insular community can see how top-notch our students are.
By the way, did I mention most of the essays were written by ninth-grade physics students? Take that, Manual High School nerds!