Kids To Space - Introduction by Lonnie Jones Schorer

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As a unique vacation destination or as a challenging place to live and work, we can envision the endless opportunities and the broad implications of humankind's continuing presence in space. Frontier space environments will require new materials, professions, and technologies. There will be break-through discoveries and innovative ways of doing things. Whether choosing to be pioneer space travelers or Earth-based astrophysicists, space architects, aerospace engineers or entrepreneurs, in almost every field, today's students possess the opportunity to be involved in our expansion to the unknown. One doesn't have to go to space to be interested in exploring the cosmos or in finding new ways, via space-related technologies, to improve life on Earth. As residents of the Universe, we are all explorers in the eternal quest for knowledge.

Dreams and curiosity are part of the magical essence of childhood. Uninhibited by the realities of practical feasibility, children's dreams, questions and ideas convey a strong sense of hope for the future. How do we validate their input and build upon their sense of hope?

Crossing the threshold into a brilliant new era of space exploration, with rapidly expanding knowledge and initiatives, it is disquieting to observe that students feel the space effort intangible, with limited opportunities. How do we bring about a perception shift? Additionally, students' media memory of the Columbia disaster appears to temper their enthusiasm for making a personal commitment to the space effort. And when their interests in space go unsupported, some students simply 'give up'. One middle school student reported that he had studied the solar system and all the planets during the summer after third grade, but when his fourth grade teacher didn't teach the solar system, he lost interest. How can we support and motivate students, so that they don't lose interest and give up? We can't buy inspiration and motivation. We have to generate it. As students will be responsible for implementing visions for the future, why not generate their interest by involving them-now! But how?

Perhaps we could begin by inviting students to participate in two of their favorite pastimes: asking questions and taking vacations. When we take a trip to a place we have never been before, part of the anticipation and fun is going to the library or bookstore to pick up a travel guide. If we were to decide to take a trip to space-from wondering what to expect, to planning and going, from living and working in space to exploring our solar system-where could we find a space travel guide? How could we begin to anticipate and plan? As there was no such book, it seemed fitting that today's students-tomorrow's space travelers- become immediately involved in the space effort by taking on the project of generating the first such guide. Based on their questions, from "How long will it take for private space travel to become a non-science fiction reality" to "How does it feel emotionally when the spacecraft returns to Earth?" the idea for Kids to Space: A Space Traveler's Guide was born.

To generate material for the guide, between January and June 2005 students, ages 3 to 18, throughout the US and Canada were asked to imagine planning a trip to the Moon or to an orbiting hotel. As pioneer space travelers, before leaving, what would they want to know? Within a period of five months, they asked more than 18,000 questions about traveling to or living in space. Students were excited to think their views and opinions were being considered. Experts expressed appreciation for having the opportunity to find out what kids are currently thinking about space. The connection was made.

Questions were organized into 94 chapters, with the number of questions in each chapter in direct proportion to student interest in a particular topic. The most universal question: How long will it take to get there?

The internationally recognized experts who accepted the challenge of answering the questions, reported that the questions were often 'tough' and got them thinking about how to better explain theories, concepts and ideas so that they could be understood by newcomers. To maintain the subject matter in each category intact, eliminating the necessity of skipping to cross references in other chapters, questions in one chapter may seem similar to, or the same as, questions in another chapter. Additionally, experts may express differing points of view in their responses. It is not important to say that one answer is correct and another is not. What is important is that students have the opportunity to understand that science is a continuously evolving, investigative process and that there may be different theories, perspectives, and responses to the same question. For some questions, there are no definitive answers. Students are invited to be part of the exploratory process and quest.

Students' illustrations further articulate their ideas about traveling to, visiting or living in space. Accompanying each chapter illustration is a storyline, intended to be read to younger children. Should children express additional curiosity about information in the story, teachers and parents may refer to the associated chapter for additional information. To further engage younger readers in thoughtful conversation about certain topics, the storyline asks them questions, suggests activities and relates to their growing-up experiences here on Earth. As children seek answers, they may read both the story and the material within each chapter. Generated by pre-school through high school students, Kids to Space: A Space Traveler's Guide is a book to grow up with. It is a book for all ages.

As a concept, the book invites students to become actively involved in planning for tomorrow. As a collection of questions and facts, it is a time capsule of what we currently think and know about space. From the author's perspective, it was a logistical challenge and an emotional journey. Thank you to the 6,000 students, supported by dedicated teachers, principals and parents, and thank you to the more than 80 experts who, combining wonder, dreams, knowledge and expertise, guided this educational journey into the future.

Lonnie Jones Schorer



Extracted from the book Kids to Space - by Lonnie Schorer