By Fran O'Rourke, Cedar Wood Elementary
Captivating and intriguing every child regardless of skill level is one of the first keys to children loving science. I hooked my students with the promise of being the first in the universe to create something special. I kept the secret for a week, giving only hints about how cool it was. By the time I told them they were going to create the first drivers license for the planet Mars, they were so excited they didn't care how much hard work was involved.
We began by investigating the rules and regulations for a Washington State drivers license. What information was present on the license? Why was this particular information needed? We enlisted the help of parent and State Patrolman Brad Ray. Next we had to make some decisions for the planet Mars. Who might be traveling to Mars besides humans? What might the vehicles be like? What type of information should be on the license for Mars in particular?
With the help of Representative Dave Schmidt, the children discussed the steps involved for making this a real license. I called the department of transportation in Olympia, and received a warm and friendly reception. next I called Governor Mike Lowry. Would he sign the license? The answer was an enthusiastic "Yes!"
From here the project grew. Students were excited, they were creating a real, first-time license and very important people in our state were commending them for their work. At this point, the kids broke into cooperative teams and drew up a number of prototype licenses. The entire class then voted on the design, colors and information from each team and what should be included on the license.
Then, a team of six students worked during recess time compiling all of the ideas into one license. We decided as a class that it should be hand-written by 9-year-old Lindsey Johnson. As we progressed further towards completion of the assignment, the children decided we should give Brian Cooper, the JPL engineer who will be "driving" the rover, a driver's test with a prototype of the vehicle. With help from JPL, Mr. Cooper was flown to Washington state, unaware of what was in store for him.
Students now had to prepare a school-wide assembly to share this event. That meant having background information not only on Mars but the on the Solar System. So they went back to the books, the Internet and Encarta. Each student was required to design a computer program that would share information about a particular planet. They wrote a Solar System rap, designeda Mars T-shirt and studied topographical maps of Mars so they could recreate a section of Mars with paper mache and plywood, for the rover to drive on.
Finally, on November 28th, Brian Cooper arrived from JPL, Governor Lowry arrived from Portland, Representative Dave Schmidt from the 44th District, Bill Stevens from the Department of Licensing, and Brad Ray from the State Patrol. 680 students watched as 28 fellow students shared their research about Mars, the Pathfinder mission and the Solar System. For one full hour Cedar Wood Elementary students were captivated. The culminating activity was the administration of the drivers test. Along with students Tyler Mitchell and Taya Stenson they administered the test to Mr. Cooper. He passed with flying colors. All dignitaries signed the license, and students Tiffany Vanskaik, ashley Johnson and Lindsey Johnson presented the license to Mr. Cooper for display at JPL during the Pathfinder Mission to Mars.
And pride was added to the excitement as an invitation was extended by the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum to display the license, making it the first piece of student work from the State of Washington to be placed on display at any of the Smithsonian Institutions.
In addition my students will create a landing license for the Russian lander. Working with the Russian Consulate in Seattle, we hope to find an elementary school in Russia to work with us in the creation via Internet and present the license to Ruslan Kuzmin.