Historical Innovations & Dreams

1957earthsatellite5What does the Moon and the Jamestown Colony in 1607 have in common? I started my guest-visit Wednesday with 100 Second Graders with that question and one answered, “They are both not easy to get to.” Exactly! One common theme that connected my discussion was the role dreaming has played throughout history when it comes to technology and innovation to overcome challenges such as getting to far away places. This year the Second Grade, which includes my son, completed a Jamestown map or diorama project and an interesting month-long Moon observation assignment. My interest in these two subjects led me to inquire about coming in to talk with the group. They were well prepared for this discussion.

When it came to their moon project, I asked what questions that assignment raised for them. They were asked to sketch the moon’s shape each night for a month. One student wondered where the bumps were because it looked so smooth with the naked-eye. Another said he was able to see the “Man on the Moon” some nights and not others but did not know why. I explained that Mankind has always been intrigued by the Moon. Indeed, some of the first human cave art shows they were fascinated by the bright ball glowing in the night sky. I showed them Galileo’s actual moon sketches and that he wanted to know more so he invented a telescope to help him see more detail. One girl admitted that this observation project led her to imagine what the moon would be like to visit. Ah-ha! This led right into my next topic.

Earlier people had the same thought and came up with some very creative ways to travel to the moon. I showed sketches from the Library of Congress that capture centuries of conceptual space travel design that were attempts to solve the problem of getting to the Moon. Of course the drawing that showed a giant- geese powered space craft earned some laughs. But one student who had previously commented that people long ago may have thought boats could provide lunar travel was surprised to see a somewhat similar concept shown in an 1835 drawing of a boat on wheels traveling a chain road up to the moon. His imagination matched that of a person centuries before and he was really excited by that realization.

Another interesting discussion centered on how humans would make landscapes beyond earth hospitable. We started with a scaled down Columbian Exchange chart and explained that Europeans forever altered the North American landscape with the new plants, insects and animals that were introduced during colonization. When it comes to Mars (or the Moon), there seems to be a consensus among Scientists that drastic change through terraforming would be required for sustained life to succeed there. I asked these budding scientists and engineers how humans could grow food on Mars before terraforming would be completed. After a little thought, one girl replied, “Maybe they could bring a big sponge that has earth soil and plants could grow in the sponge and just be watered.” What an innovative idea! Another replied that he knew there was ice on Mars so humans could mine it and melt it as their water source.

It was exciting to be around such a vibrant, eager group of young learners. They successfully compared the challenges of colonization on and off earth. The best part, however, was listening to their ideas and dreams and the excitement they showed when sharing their potential solutions to these historical and future-based questions.

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