Space Exploration:  Then, Now and the Future


Table of Contents

The Environment   The Physical Space
Unit Plan   Lesson Plans
  Design Team Responsibilties  

Description of the Environment


The Learning Environment detailed in this portfolio was designed for an 8th grade group of students attending Meadowfield Middle School.  The project will focus on three primary subject areas:  Language Arts, Science and History.  A major emphasis in the curriculum of the school district is integration and involvement of the community.  Thus, the theme for the Learning Environment is:  Space Exploration: Then, Now and the Future.  The goal of the environments is as follows:

The learner will develop an understanding of U.S. space exploration.

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Description of the Physical Space


Meadowfield Middle School was built in the late 1970s and has been refurbished and expanded several times in the last 20+ years.  The school houses three grade levels:  6th, 7th and 8th.  Each grade has it's own wing in the building (see diagram in Appendix A).  Activities in the learning environment will take place in three classrooms in the 8th grade wing:  Mr. Summers language arts room, Ms. Johnson's science room, and Mr. Harkness's history room .  Ms. Norrell, the school library media specialist, will also play a primary role in the environment.

Although the activities will take place in different rooms, most of the classrooms in the building are structured the same (see diagram in Appendix B).  Each room has a wall of windows and one wall with two large white boards.  There are book shelves in each room as well as a computer workstation which holds one computer and a printer.  In addition to the natural lighting from the windows, there are overhead florescent lights.  There are desks and chairs for the students as well as one for the teacher.  All of the furniture is moveable to allow each teacher a degree of creativity with room arrangement.  Teachers are encouraged to make their space comfortable, so many have pictures and posters on the walls.

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Unit Plan


Space exploration is the theme for the environment, which will be experienced for a semester.  The overall plan has been subdivided in three units, including: An Historical Perspective of Space Exploration, Current Space Exploration Activities, and A Glimpse of the Future in Space Exploration:  Prospects and Challenges.  For purposes of this project, the remainder of the portfolio will focus on the final goal:  A Glimpse of the Future in Space Exploration: Prospects and Challenges.

The Glimpse of the Future Unit will last approximately one month.  At the conclusion of the unit, the learner will be able to explain the major benefits offered by space exploration as well as some of the significant challenges we face in continuing our journey into space.  Two major lessons will be implemented during the unit:  Prospects of Space Exploration and Challenges of Space Exploration.  Breaking the unit down to two primary lessons will enable in-depth coverage of both topics.  Detailed lesson plans are described in the next section.

Two primary stations or centers will be used in the unit:  the library media center and the computer workstation.  Each center was selected for the additional information it can provide the learner -- beyond the time and place restraints of the classroom.  The library media center has a relatively strong collection.  Materials in the center include books, magazines, video, sound recordings, filmstrips, and AV equipment.  The library also has several computers equipped with Internet and Web access.

The computer workstation in the classroom is a Macintosh PowerPC.  It has a connection to the school LAN, enabling access to the Internet and Web at a good speed.  The Mac is equipped with the Microsoft Office software suite and assorted other applications, including: Netscape Communicator, Internet apps. (FTP and Telnet), Photoshop and a cognitive mapping tool called Inspiration.  The Internet/Web connection in the classroom will enable rapid retrieval of information to answer questions and solve problems as they arise in class discussion.

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Lesson Plans


The analysis which follows will apply to both lessons described in this portfolio (note: for purposes of this example, only one lesson will be developed).  The analysis is based on general knowledge of 8th graders at this stage in their development as well as specifics of the 8th grade students enrolled in Mr. Summers, Ms. Johnson, and Mr. Harkness's classes.

The students who will be participating in the learning environment range in age from 12 - 15 years old.  The group represents a mixture of ethnic orientations, with an approximate percentage breakdown of 65% Caucasian, 20% African-American, 10%  Asian, and 5% Hispanic.  60% of the students are female and approximately 30% of the students hold part-time jobs after school.  Many students are bused in from surrounding neighborhoods; all come from lower-middle to middle class working families.

In terms of their academic backgrounds, the students represent a broad spectrum.  Some of the students are in the top 25% of their class, while others are in the lower 25%.  None of the students are physically disabled, nor are any of the students enrolled in special education programs.  Motivation level is mixed, and finding activities to engage the students is a challenge.


Goal:The learner will gain an understanding of the prospects of space exploration.


1.  Given instruction on effective search strategies in on-line environments as well as in the library media center, the learner will be able to gather and compare information, presented in the form of a report, on the future of the space program in the United States and one other major nation in the world.

2.  Given information on the Russian space station, MIR, and the prospective Space Lab being developed by the U.S. and other major nations in the world, the learner will be able to compare and contrast the structures, and generate improvement recommendations to the builders of the Space Lab.


Instructional materials or examples of student-generated work are under construction.  When complete, they will be located in Appendix C.


Objective One Activities:

1.  Exploring on-line resources.  The computer lab in the school will be reserved for three days during the language arts and history classes.  One the first day, Ms. Norrell will provide instruction for effectively finding information on the Web.  The other two days will be devoted to student searching on the Web so they can locate information on future space exploration activities.

2.  Exploring physical resources.  The media center will be reserved for two days during the language arts and history classes.  On the first day, Ms. Norrell will provide guidance in finding resources in the center.  The students will use the remainder of the first day and the second day to gather information needed for their report.

3.  Generating and reporting.  Students will work on their reports in their language arts and history classes.  The format of the reports will be determined by the student (e.g., HyperStudio stack, Web page, word processed report).  Each student will present their results to the class at the end of the unit.
Objective Two Activities:

1.  Comparing and contrasting space stations.  Students will be divided into small groups in the science classes to examine various aspects of the MIR space station and the Space Lab, including living quarters, work spaces, general construction, and protective materials used on the outside of the stations.  Students will have access to the media center as well as on-line resources if additional information is needed or desired.  Each group will construct a comparison table to show similarities and differences in the two space stations.

2.  Generating and reporting.  The small groups will work on constructing a report related to their findings in the science class on the space stations, generating recommendations for improvements in the Space Lab (still under construction).  Each group will present their results to the class at the end of the unit.


Several artifacts will be used to assess the learner's understanding of the prospects of space exploration.  These include:  a bibliography of resources the students used to generate their report on future space exploration activities; the report, as well as the information presented to the class, on future space exploration activities; a comparison table showing similarities and differences in the MIR and Space Lab stations; and the report, as well as the information presented to the class, on the two space stations.  Rubrics will be used to assess the student's performance (see example in Appendix D).

The effectiveness of the learning environment will also be assessed with several tools, including teacher observation and student feedback in the form of a questionnaire.  Informal student interviews may also be used.

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Design Team Responsibilities

Section or Artifact
Team Member Responsible
Descriptions of the Learning Environment and Physical Space Mr. Summers
Description of the Unit Plan Ms. Norrell
Description of Lesson One Mr. Harkness
Description of Lesson Two Ms. Johnson
Creation of the search engine comparison chart Ms. Norrell
Creation of an example bibliography Mr. Summers
Creation of an example presentation Mr. Harkness
Creation of an example comparison table Ms. Johnson
Creation of an example HyperStudio stack Mr. Summers 
Ms. Johnson 
Compilation of the report and the Portfolio Ms. Norrell 
Mr. Harkness 
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