My background: I'm in my 17th year in elementary education (4 in Paterson, NJ, 13 and counting in Pleasant Valley School District, PA). After getting my BFA in 1982, I earned my Master's in teaching from Gratz College, 2001. I've worked as a carpenter, draftsman, word processor, public relations account executive, and in professional theatre before coming to teaching.

I created, designed and ran a summer Space Camp for gifted students in Paterson, NJ. This led to Pleasant Valley Space Camp, a summer space program for grades 4-7 for 4 years. That venture metamorphosed into Nearly NASA Space Camp for Northampton Community College's summer youth program, Horizons for Youth, in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. Under that umbrella organization, I have run Nearly NASA Space Camp for 5 years so far. Its twist is that all the experiments, materials and resources come from NASA. I have added a course, Once & Future Moon, that I ran this past summer for two (one-week sessions). For the summer of 2008, I plan to add a course offering on Mars. All of these are for kids grades 4-7.

In part based on my work in creating Space Camps, I was selected for NASA's NEW program, and had a delightful 2 weeks at Langley Research Center in June, 2001 training with some 20 other teachers and learning some amazing things about science, NASA, and educational opportunities. I co-presented a workshop at the Space Exploration Educators' Conference, Houston, February of 2006, on creating school-based space camps for kids.

I have had a lifelong interest in space exploration, and have been lucky enough to incorporate that interest into my teaching. As part of my ongoing education, I attended a NASA-sponsored workshop on the Messenger and Dawn missions at CET this summer, and that has led to my participation in this course.


1) Current, reliable science that I can bring to a fifth grade level, interpret and share with 10-year-olds.
2) Discussions with living, breathing scientists so that I can help children see that science is real, active, sometimes messy and always engaging.
3) Ideas for experiments, astonishments, and entertainments for these 10-year-old clients of mine. You'd be surprised what great teaching can grow from little things, like learning 8 basic moon phases using Oreo cookies.
4) To so engage and educate these little folks with wonderful ideas that they grow up to be astronauts, scientists, engineers and thinkers.
- Malcolm02 Malcolm02 Sep 24, 2007

Assignment: Drawing the moon.

9/24/2007I'll load the image later, but I was challenged to see the moon in darkness, then see my little card well enough to draw what I saw. I also caught it before Wednesday's full moon, so I was able to draw in the little dark crescent on the left side of the gibbous moon. I'm extremely fortunate to live in a rural area and not suffer much light pollution.
My moon drawing 9/24/2007

- Malcolm02 Malcolm02 Sep 24, 2007

Week Two Assignment

I have asked a couple of moon geology questions, and am still not sure of the lunar magma ocean. I am having trouble understanding the forces and heat that could liquify the rock in the ejecta from an earth-asteroid impact, and keep that rock molten as the moon formed. I think I'm missing some basic geologic understanding.

I still have to observe the moon with binoculars again. I observed it during a waning quarter (last quarter) phase and was interested in a very pronounced valley-gash feature crossing the terminator on a diagonal. I haven't been able to clearly spot the same thing on a moon map. The past several weeks in the Poconos have been overcast and less than ideal for moongazing.

===Week Three Assignment===--I put this on the discussion page of the assignment, and copy it here so it's cross-referenced


Malcolm02 writes:
The closest impact crater sites by me are the Toms Canyon crater and the Chesapeake Bay crater. Pennsylvania apparently has been spared visible impact, or else we aren't looking hard enough. There's probably a deep crater with high walls and a smooth floor somewhere in the northeast corner that's the refuge of all the deer and bear who don't want to get hunted and blown away.

Both the Toms Canyon and Chesapeake Bay craters are marine craters.Posted Wednesday, 3:38 am

Malcolm02 writes:
The URL for the Chesapeake Crater, including a very colorful gravity map, is Wednesday, 3:40 am

Week Four Homework

1. Read the short story external image msword.png Walk in the Sun and describe two lessons this would teach a student about the Moon.

My response: This short story teaches MANY things about the moon:
1) It is airless;
2) It is a vacuum;
3) It provides no resources for a stranded astronaut other than sunlight;
4) It rotates on an axis (slowly);
3) It receives direct sunlight at a close enough proximity to power solar panels;
4) It has steep slopes, gentle slopes, and flat areas;
5) It has house-sized boulders (though the story doesn't say so, they were tossed around by impacts and possibly volcanic action);
6) The circumference of the moon is some 11,000 kilometers (Patricia walked it);
7) You can see earthsets and sunsets from it;
8) It is covered in gritty regolith that is a contamination hazard;
9) Its surface features are varied (smooth lava beds, rough rocky fields, possibly crystalline formations, and a speculative arch--collapsed lava tube?).

2. Have a discussion with your family or a group of friends and come up with at least ten examples of the Moon in popular culture. (This could be songs, movies, products, etc. -- for example, Eclipse gum or the songs Blue Moon and Walking on the Moon by the Police.) If this is fun, see how many you and your group can come up with and from how wide a range of popular culture.

My family helpfully rattled off these ideas: werewolves are affected by full moons; made of cheese; Man in the Moon; cow jumped over the moon; once in a blue moon (expression); Dark Side of the Moon (song, Pink Floyd); Moonstruck (movie, Cher, Nicolas Cage); Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland smiling like a crescent moon; Shine on Harvest Moon (song); Moon Pies (southern yummies!); wolves/coyotes howl at the moon; outhouses use a crescent moon on their doors; moonshine (I grew up in the south and have actually had REAL moonshine and NOT gone blind); Moon over Miami (movie); Lucky Charms cereal has yellow crescent moons; mooning somebody (my ever-helpful wife offers this one, and provided a visual to go with it); Goodnight Moon (children's book read to both my daughters).

3. Ask students or coworkers what they have heard about the effect of the full moon on human behavior. If they give you a blank look, hint at what they may have heard that people in emergency rooms, police and firefighters, or staff in baby delivery rooms say. Try to get a diverse range of people to talk to you about this in the course of the week and tally their responses into general categories. There is a widely shared sense among the general population that the full moon causes crazy behavior (“lunacy”) and we will talk a bit about this during the week. But it would be nice to see if you can find evidence of this belief among people you work with.


Well, on Friday I had the urban mythologist's treat of hearing about FOAFs (Friend of a friend) who suffered all sorts of maladies from full moons. One of my colleagues has a FOAF who works in an emergency room and reports that the staff "always knows when its a full moon" because of the increase in accidents. When I mentioned that a lot of times those sorts of ideas are myths, my colleague came back with, "Yeah, but this really happens." That, too, is a CLASSIC defensive strategy for spreading urban legends. The reporter takes a position of superiority to the common, easily misled person, acknowledges that something is widely misunderstood and usually a myth, and then go right on to assert the same thing from a position of certainty (because it "really happened to a friend of a friend of mine"). The mythical emergency room accident boom during full moons ranks up there with not flashing your headlights at cars whose lights are off (doing so invites a gang initiation of gunfire), or the contraceptive power of Coca-Cola.

What concerns me about this sort of thing is that the people reporting their word-of-mouth evidence are educated people, people in positions to teach others (children) about how the world works. And they're passing on the sort of primordial myths that are easily balanced and erased by science.

I don't know anybody with a FOAF in a hospital's maternity ward, but I have heard this myth frequently, that pregnant women and their placentas are affected by the tidal force of a full moon. The logic there seems to be that, since we can SEE more moon, we FEEL more moon, too. It's a very primitive way to think about a natural object, as if when it is darkness it isn't still up there. We discount the proximity of the 3,000 pound car that the pregnant woman drives around in day after day into her 9th month (because a car is now transparent technology and easily taken for granted), and give greater power to the 250,000-mile distant object.

4. Please look through the external image msword.png Moon in Popular Culture Resource Guide and describe how you might use some of these resources in your EPO work.

My response will follow this week. I don't do PO, just the E--I teach fifth graders!


With my 15-year-old daughter's help, I've gathered pop songs from I-Tunes that are astronomy-based. I'm going to use them to provide ambience and motivation for the students for introductions to lessons about stars, galaxies, and space exploration. I'll follow up with a report on the results.
- Malcolm02 Malcolm02 Oct 20, 2007

10/26/2007 I have played, for three days now, the song by They Might Be Giants called "Why Does the Sun Shine?" which apparently is originally from the 1960s or so. It is INCREDIBLY hokey and yet it taught my lil darlin's that the sun is made of hydrogen, its core is around 15,000,000 degrees C., and that life depends on it. They get up and dance and strut, so that I think they can't hear ANYTHING, and then they tell me all the right answers.

I heard Dark Side of the Moon on the radio just yesterday, but I think it's too weird for my fifth graders. Pink Floyd is probably more suitable for an older crowd.

Other tunes coming up include the absolutely awful "Beep Beep, Here Comes the Satellite," by Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans, from a school album called "Space Songs," from the 1960s, and "Werewolves of London," because of the full moon connection.

11/12/07 Okay, the kids thought the "Space Songs" were hokey, but they DO keep humming the infectious melodies. There is something almost magical about music's ability to engrain learning.

- Malcolm02 Malcolm02 Oct 26, 2007

November 12 Class --Is this week 8?

For Dr. Grier's misconceptions week, I'd like to offer a memory from my childhood, the classic sun-earth-moon model, an example of which is linked here:


As a child I remember seeing one of these in my science classroom and thinking how remarkable it was that our planet could exist so close to the sun, that somebody must have worked very hard to get a huge bicycle chain into space, and that our earth is SO big compared to the sun. Sometimes in my students I see the same effort in their minds to make child-sense out of a confused understanding. I can still remember trying to reconcile that stupid model with the images of Apollo 11. It confused me, yes, but I think it also undermined my trust in science education.

Anyway, this thing is truly awful, for the following reasons:

1) SCALE--there's little if any regard to scale of the celestial bodies or their distances from one another. The moon is monstrously huge to the earth, which is almost on a par with the star it orbits. Everything orbits about two solar diameters from the star (which would be somewhat toxic to life were that the case).

2) COLORING--the earth is usually a geographic blue. This particular model offends with what seems to be political boundaries or lines of latitude and longitude. The moon is simplified to a half-white, half-black thing.

3) ORBIT--while the bodies orbit the star in an ellipse that is only 5% removed from a circle, the model shouldn't be circular. And the moon doesn't climb and descend in its 5% eccentricity of orbit as it should. It dutifully tumbles around the earth as if it were on the same pool table as earth.

4) MECHANISM--This is the most forgivable sin, because they had to have SOME way for the think to go around. But I well remember this funky bicycle chain thing and thinking, "How does something that big fit in space and we can't see it?" In my maturing mind, a gigantic bicycle chain emanating from the sun would SURELY make noise and be a sight to see in the sky.

5) MYSTERY--Just what is that thing orbiting close to the sun? Is it Mercury? Is it another moon, to illustrate an eclipse? There's no labeling or visible explanation.

6) ECLIPSE ILLUSIONS--No wonder the moon can block out the sun during a solar eclipse--it's so incredibly massive, and so incredibly close, it threatens to cast us all into permanent darkness. And no wonder the earth can cast its shadow across the moon during a lunar eclipse--same scale issues. Also note that a lunar eclipse, by this model, will occur on EVERY orbit of the moon. How nice.

7) MOONBEAMS--Thank goodness the moon is half white ALL THE TIME. According to this model, the moon will be on the far side of earth and still be half white. No need for reflected sunlight to give us a full moon.

To be fair (and follow Dr. Grier's directions), the model will provide a few positive things.

A) It offers a simplistic explanation (or simplified model) of a solar and lunar eclipse. (Somewhat ruined by having the earth during a lunar eclipse be about one earth diameter away from the sun. Yikes!).

B) It shows the earth's tilt on its axis compared to the ecliptic.

C) It shows that one half of the moon--and whatever that Mercurylike thing is--is always receiving sunlight.

D) The objects are spheres and not disks.

E) The earth orbits the sun and the moon orbits earth.

Anyway, I do NOT use this model. I struggle with effective models to represent scale distance, using a 2" sun and over 700 feet of planetary distances to Pluto. Then I do an earth-moon styrofoam model connected by a string whose length is determined by wrapping earth 10 times with it (earth's diameter is close to 1/10th the earth-moon distance). I don't bother trying to scale the sun and planets in 3D.
- Malcolm02 Malcolm02 Oct 26, 2007


I have submitted a PowerPoint presentation, to accompany this lesson, by e-mail to Chuck today, 11/21/2007.

Audience: My final project is a two-period Problem-Based Learning science lesson for grade 5 (ages 10 and 11), roughly equal numbers of boys and girls; no children have IEPs. Some of the children receive remedial reading instruction and remedial mathematics instruction.

Topic Relevance (State Standards): By 8th grade, Pennsylvania students will be assessed on statewide standardized tests on their ability to describe patterns of Earth’s movements (i.e., rotation and revolution) and the Moon’s movements (i.e., phases, eclipses, and tides) in relation to the Sun.{PA State Science Anchor S8.D.3.1.1}, describe the role of gravity as the force that governs the universe (i.e., the solar system) {PA State Science Anchor S8.D.3.1.2} , and compare and contrast characteristics of celestial bodies found in the solar system (e.g., moons, asteroids, comets, meteors, inner and outer planets).{PA State Science Anchor S8.D.3.1.3} This PBL activity addresses all three of these anchors.

Learning Objective: After the learning activity, students will be able to compare and contrast characteristics of solar system bodies, analyze and evaluate data about solar system bodies, and synthesize characteristics of solar system bodies to determine expected qualities of those bodies, and define gravity as the force of attraction that holds the solar system together.

Materials: PowerPoint presentation, black and white photographs of Iapetus, student notebooks, planet fact sheet, comet and asteroid fact sheets, Data Record Sheets (based on the pertinent charts from the PowerPoint), TOPS Certificates, overhead projector, LCD projector and computer, classroom supplies.

Lesson Description:
Skill Review: Use a brainstorming/story mapping on chalkboard to review what students know of earth's Moon. Identify the planets of the solar system, and identify any moons of those planets students can recall. Recall that students often play roles in science class to mirror the grown-up science community.

Skill Instruction: Students are in heterogeneous groups of four. Describe the roles students will play: they are seven Teams Of Planetary Scientists (TOPS) providing assistance to unnamed other scientists throughout the world. The defined problem is presented to these expert Teams Of Planetary Scientists: other scientists have found a new object in the solar system and need help determining if it is a moon, planet, comet or asteroid.
To provide adequate background for the TOPS, a PowerPoint presentation on the moons of the solar system has been hastily put together.
Before the PowerPoint, students will copy two drawings in the notebooks: a diagram to illustrate moon diameter, and a drawing to illustrate a moon's orbital radius from the planet. In addition, they will record a simple definition of "albedo" as the percent of sunlight hitting a planet that is reflected back into space.
The teacher presents the PowerPoint to the class as if it was hurriedly assembled as a reference tool, not something custom-made for the task at hand. It provides SOME information about some solar system moons. The teacher emphasizes that real life is often messy, or fuzzy, and decisions must be made using incomplete information. During the presentation, the teacher interrupts to provide the Data Record Sheets, as if they just arrived. The data record sheets match the PowerPoint presentation, but provide for an additional celestial body (the "mystery" object) so that students can record incoming data about it.
The PowerPoint presentation focuses on comparing moon diameters, albedo, existence of an atmosphere, ratio of moon to planet size, and moon distance from planet. Review sheets about comets, asteroids, and planets are provided to each team (not each student) as references in evaluating the new object.
Students must ask questions about, and will receive SOME information on, the strange new object throughout the PBL. They will only be provided information when they ask for it, which forces them to synthesize and evaluate the data. The teacher plays the role of messenger from the outside scientists, feeding the class information as requested. Creative struggle is encouraged.
As needed, the teacher hints that important questions the teams might ask include all the parameters from the Data Record Sheets, and if gravity seems to be influencing the object. The hope is that groups will ask about the new object's orbital path. If they "discover" that it is orbiting a planet and not the sun, then they will know immediately that it cannot be a comet, asteroid or planet; it is a moon.
By the middle of the second class period, student groups must be ready to present their findings to the whole class. Presentations must include supporting visual aids (overheads, paper charts, chalkboard drawings). Each group defends its classification of the new mystery object as planet, moon, comet or asteroid in a 2-minute presentation. Is it okay for different TOPS to disagree? Can they defend their decision with facts? What does the majority of the Teams of Planetary Scientists think?
To conclude, the entire classroom of TOPS must prepare a single statement to be issued to the outside scientists, saying what they think the object is. They all sign their names to it.
At the beginning of the third class period, as the skill review, the teacher reads a "brief statement from the outside scientists" that reveals the object to be Iapetus, a moon of Saturn, based on important research done by the outstanding Teams of Planetary Scientists (the students). Praise and congratulations all around, a job well done, and presentation of certificates stating that the students are TOPS (pun is intentional).

Closure: After the learning activity, the student will describe Iapetus in his/her science notebook as a moon, due to its orbit around Saturn, its small ratio compared to the planet, its lack of atmosphere, and its small diameter.

Evaluation: Learning will be assessed by the finished product presented by each research "team," and by an objective test as part of the Unit D curriculum.