Christopher Burnett | Staff Writer
Patton Junior High School science students have been in a race to get to space as part of the technology, engineering, arts, math and science initiative.
Staff from the Directorate of Simulation Education at the Command and General Staff College has been assisting as an outreach project.
“The Kerbal Space Program is a computer simulation game where the object is for students to create a space program,” said science teacher Nicole Elder. “It’s designed to teach them physics principles through trial and error.”
Elder said 78 seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students participated by working in 16 teams.
“Students are given materials to build a rocket capable of flying its crew out into space,” Elder said. “They are given parts that affect the way the rocket will fly. Through an applied process of trial and error, students discover whether they have their rockets built correctly.”
Elder said feedback is immediate because the simulated rocket will fly successfully, crash or not fly at all based on whether or not the student processes were correct. She said the students seem to have enjoyed the learning experience.
“Dr. James Sterrett, deputy director of U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Digital Leader Development Center’s Simulations and Exercises Division, started us and is very knowledgeable in the field of physics,” Elder said. “He would review the principles of physics with the students, and they use that knowledge to understand how the rocket ships work successfully.”
Elder said there is a competition attached to the Kerbal Space Program learning module. Students are awarded points for reaching certain space mission milestones.
“The point system additionally motivates the students,” Elder said. “It’s a functional video game scenario with applicable real-life implications in the areas of science and technology.”
Elder said some students have immersed themselves into the various aspects of the educational experience and have come in after school to do extra work with the project.
“It takes lots of time to learn the technical intricacies of the game,” she said.
Sterrett, Lt. Col. Pat Schoof, chief of simulations for the Directorate of Simulation Education, and other experts from CGSC volunteer in the classroom to assist students. Elder said having the scientists and technical experts available is very beneficial.
“Having these gentlemen come into the classroom is wonderful and we need more of it,” Elder said. “Students are interacting with people who actually do this for their job. As an educator, these are the types of careers we want our science students to aspire to.”
Seventh-graders Caleb Reed and Gavin McGuire have already completed several preliminary missions and were preparing for a moon mission. Reed said he was the rocket builder and McGuire said he was the pilot.
Page 2 of 2 - “We first learned how center of thrust evens out the path of the rocket so that it goes straight up and it doesn’t immediately turn and fall,” Reed said. “When I build the rocket, he needs to know how much fuel he has and the type of thrust from the engine he’ll be dealing with.”
McGuire said the first mission was relatively simple, but successful. He said they flew the rocket straight up and down.
“We now know that it will take more fuel and a stronger engine to go to the moon,” McGuire said. “One of the reasons we come after school is to get more points through the things we accomplish in the game. We use the points to get better equipment for our space program.”
Schoof said with the help of several teachers and CGSC faculty members, the Kerbal Space Program experience for Patton Junior High School students is unique. He said the details of the game replicate the space race of the 1960s.
“The students’ target programs to follow are those first historic Soviet and American missions as we proceeded throughout the space race,” Schoof said. “And, progressively, our goal was to see if they can get to the equivalent in the Kerbal Space Program software to the moon and back.”
Schoof said although all of the students are not at that final goal, many are figuring out some of the same things that scientists did during the space race. He said it has been interesting to see the development of student reasoning.
“They are learning about science and math and as they progress in school, the exposure to physics will be beneficial,” Schoof said.