Westward Movement

Saturday, October 1, 2011

From Pluto to Jupiter

Our storyline the first half of the year involves colonizing a planet in search of natural resources near depletion on earth, namely petroleum. The goal is to use this experience to build understanding of colonial America. The process builds on student experience - asking questions to solicit ideas, opinions, knowledge and further questions. I asked my students to choose planet for exploration. They chose Pluto - wanting to be unusual, wanting to go somewhere yet to be explored.

Groups were formed: a group would design the planet, another the space around the planet, another transportation to take us there, and a fourth would build structures we'd depend on once we arrived on Pluto. After some planning time, creating began, and for an hour or two, groups worked together creating the Pluto colony.

The next morning, with just a few hours of time available to complete the planet colony, C, an exceptionally bright, though struggling 4th grader, raised his hand as we discussed next steps and our need to be finished by the end of that day. When I called on him, he said he'd been thinking about our choice of Pluto as a planet on which to search for petroleum, a gas. He suggested we look at a gas planet rather than a rock and ice planet as a gas planet, even unexplored, would be more likely to have gas like resources. He told us the temperatures were far less extreme on Jupiter than they were on Pluto, and that although Jupiter had a big red spot deep within the planet, we'd be safe from harm - it is like the core of earth, he said. We don't go there - we know it's 
there, so we are informed. 

The whole class listened to C. Another student suggested choosing to go to Jupiter as it was much closer, and we wouldn't have far to go. Yet another student suggested voting to make a change. It was a split class - eight or nine kids still wanted to go to Pluto. C again brought up the point of going to a gas planet if we were going to explore gas resources. He'd gone on line during recess, and shared the range of temperature on Jupiter, as well as the extreme cold temperature on Pluto. The kids asked for another vote. This time, just two students held tight to Pluto, yet agreed they could live with the change to Jupiter. 

Two hours later, the planet group, with the help of my terrific new student teacher, created a new planet, the space group added a few elements, the transportation group finished the ship that would take us there and also created a land vehicle, and the structures group, after the class decided we'd build structures once we arrived, as had the original colonists of our country, created a prototype for a space suit we'd all need to wear on the planet. The conversations that took place were excited and focused. Aside from facilitating the conversation, I offered no advice nor suggestion. I fired up the glue gun, stood on a chair to do the "tall stuff" (that always makes me feel good), and offered another set of hands when needed.

My kids are powerful. They own our planet frieze, and are so excited they made the change from Pluto to Jupiter. C, a boy who self-admits temper issues and at times struggles getting along with others, was glowing as his peers and I thanked him profusely for his valuable suggestions. That alone is enough to make me glow, too.


  1. While "learning" something in the classroom is of value; finding one's voice and developing the confidence needed to actually "DO" something with that information in the future is priceless. Your insight and ability to foster both is extraordinary.

  2. heartening. thank you for sharing this.