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Launch Learning Partnership with The Cosmosphere

Turner Elementary STEM students benefit from the space-centered program.

This story was written by Grace Golubski, THS Journalism Student

In early-level education, concepts and curriculums relating to STEM subjects may be difficult to implement into a classroom full of young, restless minds. Despite that, Turner Elementary teacher Leah Coffman prioritizes the importance of challenging her young students through innovative lessons. In search of new ways to expose her students to 21st century technologies, Coffman discovered the Cosmosphere’s Launch Learning program.

The Cosmosphere, located in Hutchinson, began a Launch Learning Fellowship, which is a collaboration of up to thirty educators across the state. Each educator undergoes personal and professional development to influence and promote teaching STEM. Coffman applied for the program two years ago and was accepted. The first year, Turner Elementary was the only school in the Kansas City metropolitan area in the program.

“The Cosmosphere provides free professional development for all the Launch Learning Fellows. We have a combination of in-person and online meetings. My favorite is the four-day space camp in the summer," shared Coffman. "In addition, we have access to a collection of lessons, activities, and videos to use with our students. The videos that we have access to are so entertaining and attention-grabbing for the students. We have access to livestream presentations from the Cosmosphere educators, and I have been able to have the Cosmosphere Educators come to Turner elementary to present and complete activities with all grade levels the last two years.”

Through the Launch Learning program, students are allowed an opportunity to perceive STEM concepts through a real-world environment. “I have students come up to me with such enthusiasm to tell me what they want to be when they grow up. I hear ideas such as 'I want to be a dancer then I want to be a scientist on the space station' or 'I want to design and make prosthetic body parts' and 'I want to be a crime scene investigator.' It's cool to see how the students have started to see STEM as a normal part of school. They are now able to understand how much in everyday life is STEM related and they know that STEM is for everyone,” said Coffman.

“Launch Learning has been a great resource and experience to help expand the scope of the STEM program and keep it energized. I know that I can count on the lessons created by the Cosmosphere to be high-quality and standards based. Especially with the renewed growth in space programs, it is conceivable that some students in elementary school today could be working on a commercial space station in the future. It is vital that we keep students interested in what is happening in STEM and continue a love of learning," said Coffman.

Through the Cosmosphere’s Launch Learning program, students will continue to obtain and view stem concepts as real-world scenarios. Students can utilize their STEM experiences throughout all years of education and even in other future experiences as well.

Blue Origin Space Experiment

Ms. Coffman's 4th and 5th grade students worked on designing an experiment that will collect data on a Blue Origin New Shepard sub orbital flight. The spacecraft will go above the Karman Line (100km above Earth) carrying cube satellites. In this project, students learned the basics of using an Arduino circuit board. The students decided to use a temperature and humidity sensor to collect temperature data throughout the suborbital flight. Once students completed the design, Ms. Coffman sent the diagram and code to the Teachers in Space (TIS) organization, and they built a duplicate cubsat with higher quality materials to fly on the February 2023 Blue Origin suborbital flight. Unfortunately, there was a malfunction on the September 2022 unmanned launch that has postponed the February flight. The class is waiting to hear about a new date for that flight and will be sent the results of their experiment once it is conducted.

Stratospheric Glider Experiment

This year, Teachers in Space (TIS) contacted Ms. Coffman to see if they would be interested in sending one of their Arduino temperature experiments in a cubesat frame on a stratospheric glider this summer. There was one group of students who were particularly interested in the Arduinos, and so Ms. Coffman asked them if they would want to take on this challenge. They spent March and part of April building, testing, and retesting their cubesat. Once they were confident they had the cubesat working, they prepped it to be shipped to the TIS organization who will then get it to the Perlan organization. It will go with them to Argentina to fly in a stratospheric glider this coming August or September. Once it has flown, they will ship the cubesat back to Ms. Coffman. One of Perlan's goals is to set records flying a glider to 90,000 feet. It would be awesome if their cubsat was on that record breaking flight!