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Simulated Space Shuttle Launch

Starring: Usha Kothari's Class at Frank Elementary School

Students orbit science world

Arizona Republic
by Clare Ulik

GUADALUPE -- Usha Kothari has taught all over the world, but it wasn't until she landed in this tiny, unassuming town that she finally got a longtime dream off the ground.

Kothari turned her classroom into a space shuttle and launched her students into orbit.

"It was just fabulous," she said at the end of the simulated space mission. "For 11 years, I've been trying to do something like this."

Kothari's fifth-graders built the shuttle by enclosing their Frank Elementary School classroom with cardboard walls they had covered with dials and maps.

Half of the students went into orbit; the other half worked the computer stations in mission control a classroom away. They used video cameras, computers and the Internet to communicate with each other.

The astronauts wore full spacesuits -- white scrubs donated by a hospital and white football helmets on loan from McClintock High School.

They laminated name tags which identified their job, their shuttle -- the Guad Squad -- and the name of the mission: Frank School 2004. That's the year they're to graduate from high school.

While in space, the astronauts conducted experiments like those done on real shuttle missions.

The medical team monitored the temperatures and heart rates of the astronauts exposed to radiation.


5th-graders 'fly' their own space shuttle

The navigation team charted the United States.

The probe team built probes to send out in search of comets.

"It's cool, it's fun," 10-year-old Caleb Hardy said as he fashioned a multicolored probe out of a K'Nex building kit. "We did a lot of training to get ready for this."

Kothari has waited a long time to find the right school in which to pull together such an ambitious project.

"I've been teaching 20 years, but I've never found a team of teachers strong enough to help me do it until now," she said, giving credit to team-teacher Nidia Lias-Ramero, librarian Debbie Crow and lab technician Gemma Garcia.

This is Kothari's first year at Frank School. Before coming to Guadalupe, she taught in Chicago, London, India, and Hawaii.

To get ready for the mission, the students spent several months learning about space travel, planets, comets and astronaut training.

"We even learned how to do the hydroponics and experiments in the classroom -- watered-down versions of the stations done in the shuttle," Kothari said.

She even created problems on the mission. At one point, an assistant sneaked to the back of the room and poured water on dry ice to generate smoke. The students scrambled to reach mission control to resolve the problem.

At the end of the mission as the shuttle touched down and patriotic music started, the students applauded.

"It was almost as if they actually experienced this," Kothari said. "Isn't that neat?"

Shelby Hobart, science/technology coordinator for the Tempe Elementary District gave every student a temporary e-mail account so they could communicate with each other.

He also linked the project to the school's broadcast system so other classrooms could watch the mission unfold.

"I think this is the first time we've done something in the district to this degree of technology," Hobart said.

"This really brings science education to the students."



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