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Gifted and Talented students begin space mission project with help from expert

The year is 2080. Mankind has established research bases on the moon and Mars. An exploration ship returning to Mars has gone missing. It’s up to New Braunfels ISD’s 3rd, 4th and 5th grade Gifted and Talented (GT) students to find it.

Each semester, the librarians from Memorial, Walnut Springs, County Line and Klein Road elementary schools, who also serve as the campus GT coordinators, get together to coordinate a project for their GT students. "Moon, Mars, and Beyond”, a project-based learning opportunity that simulates a futuristic space mission, is this semester’s pick.

On Jan. 23, Dr. Yang Liu, post-doctoral researcher from the Southwest Research Institute, visited the students to kick off the project.

Liu presented at Memorial and Klein Road to students from all four participating campuses. The presentation covered many aspects of the solar system, outlining planets and their characteristics, and the massive scale of the sun. From there, the presentation gravitated towards the exploration and potential colonization of space. He also included information about his research division’s role in several NASA space missions.

Liu also provided handouts and an introduction to “Spacecraft 3D”, a NASA iOS app to help the students learn about actual spacecraft used to explore the solar system.

The project will take place over the majority of the semester, with most of the time focused on mission preparation. The curriculum will have a heavy emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts. 

During mission preparation, the students will be split into teams specializing in transmissions, navigation, cargo and communications.

The project culminates with mission day, a live simulation involving an online video feed between the team and “mission control”. The teams will use the concepts they’ve learned to complete the mission.

“(The project) will teach students to prepare for emergencies, a chance to make mistakes without consequence and to learn from them,” said Shirley Cabada, Memorial Elementary librarian and GT coordinator. “Students will anticipate situations, problem solve, and use communications between team members.”

Mission day will be in either April or May and will vary between campuses.

CAPTION: Dr. Yang Liu with (left to right) Michael Caballero, Zach Morrison and Brody Maresh.

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