Harlem 5th Graders Reach for the Moon

What would you need to know if you were writing a book about space missions? Who would you talk to and what would you ask?

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Ms. Laroche’s fifth grade class from PS 154 in Harlem had the opportunity to find out last week when we took them to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum to interview astronaut Mike Massimino. The students toured the Space Shuttle exhibition of the museum before taking turns asking Mr. Massimino the questions they had prepared about space travel and its logistics. Or so we thought…

The first thing they wanted to know?

“Why didn’t you give up after being rejected three times?”

The Program

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 8.38.02 AMWith the help of the Intrepid Museum, the field trip was arranged as part of our program with Caldecott Medal winning author Brian Floca and his book, Moonshot, The Flight of the Apollo 11. At his first workshop with the students Mr. Floca spoke about the process of making his book and had the students choose one of 14 real U.S. space missions to research. From Apollo 8 (the first manned trip around the moon) to Expedition 43 (the longest space expedition to date), and including one of Mr. Massimino’s missions (STS-125, where he helped repair the Hubble Space Telescope), all the missions featured a significant U.S. ‘first.’

Brian Floca gives out missions

Students worked in pairs to research these missions and are writing a book about space travel, to be professionally published next semester. The research was challenging and the subject matter highly technical. But we know how to help our kids rise to the challenge!

Field trips and tangible experiences are often the source of inspiration that connect students to literature. And what better way to consolidate reading, writing, and research for a book on space than an interview with a real astronaut?

The trip to the Intrepid was a first for most of the students and the chance to interview a real astronaut – a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Their reading came to life when our young research teams gathered with the Intrepid Museum’s Educators in a small room behind the ship’s mess hall. There, the museum’s educators used a vacuum chamber to demonstrate the effects of a vacuum on our lungs (balloons expanded) and on all the fluid in our bodies (a glass of water boiled). Two very good reasons not to open the door of your space shuttle! Students donned space gloves and tried to complete delicate tasks like those required of astronauts in space.

Question Time

DSC04631They’d done the research. He needed no introduction. As soon as Mike sat down the first hand went up. It wasn’t a question about his missions or about space travel. It was about the journey to realizing his dream… So why didn’t he give up after being rejected from the program three times?

“It was something I really wanted to do.”

“You hear “no” a lot in life, you could be trying out for sports teams or trying to get into a school. I was told no about a lot of things. I thought, if I stopped applying what would my chance be of getting in  … ZERO!!”

All of Ms. Laroche’s 28 students had a chance to ask one question and for half an hour Mr. Massimino spoke about how bulky the space suit felt, how congested he was the first night due to the effect of the lack of gravity on the body’s fluids, why moon rocks are all the same gray, and more about his journey to becoming an astronaut.

Q: “How did you feel during the interview?
A: “Nervous. But others told me to be myself. I didn’t try to make up answers if I didn’t know them I just said I didn’t know. I was prepared and tried to act myself so that made it easier.

Q: “Do you believe in aliens?
A: “No. Well, we haven’t been contacted yet. I do believe there’s life out there though.”

Q: “Do you miss it?
A: “Yes. But I was astronaut for 18 years so I’d had a good turn.”

Q: “Did you feel a lot of pressure?”
A: “I felt responsibility. It’s very expensive! [the Hubble Space Telescope]. My job was not to break it. But pressure can be a good thing, it can push you to do your best and make you do really great things, but if you let it get to you and you get stressed or panic, it’s not a good thing.”

Whether it’s maneuvering a faulty screwdriver in zero gravity through space suit gloves or overcoming obstacles to take your reading and writing to the next level, there’s nothing more empowering than achieving something you didn’t think possible. This is the sense of accomplishment that we strive to replicate for our students.

Thank you to the Intrepid Museum for hosting our young authors and to Mike Massimino and Brian Floca for sharing their passion for their work with our students. With partnerships like these, our students will accomplish more than they thought possible.

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Building on Experiences

From two interactive workshops with an award-winning author to a field trip to meet a real astronaut, the program has been a truly immersive experience for our students. We’re sure it’s given them the insight they’ll need to create authentic characters and vivid descriptions for their own space stories.

Beyond their next book, we hope our students will keep taking risks and reaching for the moon.

Join the conversation and find out what innovative projects our students are working on! Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter @Behind_the_Book.