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mark gargano in a mars like field in Australia

From Mark Gargano
Spaceward Bound Mojave 2008


After coming back to Earth (Pun intended) from Spaceward Bound in the Mojave in April it was back to sifting through emails, assessing students, attending and organising meetings, planning student events and strangely enough teaching, the shock of the real world hits fast.

Thinking to the great experiences and camaraderie of Spaceward Bound has impressed upon me so many diverse skills for students and teachers to embrace. Even as an experienced educator, that utilises real world, practical skills on a frequent basis, it was perhaps the little things from Spaceward Bound that impressed me the most.

Incorporating student research teams into an overall theme, being lead by the Principal Investigator, also known as the Teacher, enhances the facilitation of learning and the student’s ownership and retention of the scientific process. Seeing my students develop a natural inquiry that links to real research and are proud to demonstrate their understanding to others is very exciting, changing the role from the all knowing teacher to facilitator… am I to become redundant?

Often as students develop with project work and at their own pace, educators ask this question, no I don’t think redundancy is an issue, but our role as a guide, someone who has an outside, broader view with the clear goals in mind is crucial to the learning (and teaching) process, whether that be on a Spaceward Bound as the PI or in a Middle School classroom as their teacher… perhaps not so ‘little things’ after all.

So what am I doing now?

We have just come off the annual Australian Mars Exploration Conference (AMEC) held in Adelaide, South Australia, organised by Mars Society Australia (MSA), which was followed by Spaceward Bound Australia-1, what’s that I hear you ask?

Spaceward Bound Australia-1 enabled the key players who were in attendance at AMEC, including Liza Coe, to survey areas of historical aeronautical and astronautics importance, as well as areas of geological and astrobiological significance. From here, as the Education Director of MSA and NASA Spaceward Bound Alumni, to look at the science that may be generated and how our education attendees from Australia and the US will participate and gain a high quality professional development opportunity from this event in Australia’s outback in July 2009. A work in progress, check the general NASA Spaceward Bound site for updates on this new exciting addition in the ‘Spaceward Bound family’.

student watching rocket ascent

In my spare time, I have been providing sessions to teachers and students in Western Australia on the aims and objectives of Spaceward Bound and specifically Mojave 2008. As well as delivering a few public lectures relating to Spaceward Bound, I have been busy enhancing our Science curriculum with extra connections to research being conducted in the real world. As well as projects that have been running very successfully for many years here at St Joseph’s School, such as rocket launching and analysis, robot and rover building and space suit design and testing, the aim now is to develop skills among the students to bring all of these items together.

Having secured grants before, I pursued this line once again and was fortunate enough to have obtained an allowance of AU$1500 from Earth Sciences Western Australia to develop these student skills further. In September my advanced Year 10 Science group will be participating in our expedition, ‘From our ancient past to our space future’. This is going to encompass geology and soil profiles, sampling techniques, weathering processes, mineral identification, examining stromatolite structures, searching for fossils, visiting a crater impact site, astronomy, along with areas of indigenous interest and local historical space science.

Mark Gargano in space displayNow as far as facilitation goes, as well as traditional teaching techniques, the emphasis will be on the students. They will be required to complete pre-reading and will be sampling and analysing onsite. From the information gathered in their research group, the students will be keeping a journal and then present their findings with the larger group. An outcome will be that the pupils will be writing a field report and will be sharing their findings with other students through various means, including presentations, symposia and writing papers. Each member of the class is a vital component to our expedition and each member will add to the generated resources from our time in the field. So apart from gaining content within a fantastic context, the students will be also contributing authors. I am looking forward to sharing these materials and updating as we progress, as much of what will be created could be applied to any student expedition, not just over here, although if you need an excuse to bring students to Western Australia then... very exciting times ahead, three days of earth and planetary science, the first Student Spaceward Bound under the Southern Cross, watch this space for updates.   

On to Mars!



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Editor: Linda Conrad
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated: April 2007
Teachers Contact: Liza Coe