Category : Field Trips

Viewing a rocket launch

Space Shuttle AtlantisIf you live in Central Florida, or if you ever find yourself in the area, you might consider taking your kids or students to see a rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida. It’d say “It’s a blast!”, but then you’d probably send me hate mail and unfriend me on Facebook.

Last week I visited the Kennedy Space Center with some friends. My friends live and work in the United Kingdom, and as such had not checked out the Kennedy Space Center before. Our family got annual passes some years ago and been to the center several times, but it is always interesting to visit the complex, especially (for me at least) the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. On this particular day our kids did not accompany me to visit the center – they had school that day.

When we arrived we learned that there was to be a launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket later that evening. We decided we would take the shuttle to watch the launch. None of us had seen a rocket launch before – they don’t get that sort of thing in the UK, and while I do live here in Florida I had never gotten around to doing it. Maybe it was one of those “it’s always there if I ever want to do it, so no hurry” sorts of things. So after exploring the center we took the shuttle to the special viewing area and sat in the bleachers to watch the launch.

The launch went according to plan (well, okay, it was one minute late) and it was amazing. At first the flames appear, then the clouds of smoke start to billow beneath the rocket. The rocket slowly lifts into the sky, gradually picking up speed as it climbs. Then the noise hits you – a thunderous bass that shakes the bleachers even from far away (which is a good thing – being too close to a rocket launch will result in incineration or death by, believe it or not, ridiculously loud noise). As the rocket pierces the atmosphere it leaves behind a little wisp of cloud before it continues upward into space.

I’m hoping to take our own kids to the Kennedy Space Center to see a rocket launch someday soon. I think it is fascinating to see science in action, and the immense power of a space rocket in flight is breathtaking to experience. It also demonstrates how amazing we as a species have become at manipulating the materials of our world into amazing technology like space rockets, space shuttles, satellites, and telescopes to explore our universe. It also makes me think about STEM teaching, and of finding ways to introduce kids to different technologies by actually experiencing them – like exploring the insides of a computer, riding a high speed train, or watching something being manufactured at a plant. If you can think of any good ideas of this nature, please let me know!

P.S. One interesting site that a tour guide told us about at the Kennedy Space Center is Spaceflight Now. On this site you can see the various rocket launches that are scheduled throughout the world.

Falcon 9 rocket launch

Five ways camping benefits kids

There’s something magical about camping. Being away from it all in a remote location, with no TV, no Internet, no modern conveniences. Of course, some of the reasons camping is appealing are also reasons that it can be difficult… sometimes the romance of camping is more fun than the reality of mosquitos, lumpy tent floors, and lack of a toilet!

Still, camping is not without its benefits, especially for kids! Here are some of them:

Paudash Lake sunset

1. Kids learn about nature by being surrounded by it

It’s one thing to learn about nature in a school classroom. But it’s quite another thing to be surrounded by nature in a beautiful setting. Lots of different types of lessons can be taught outdoors – biology, botany, geology, meteorology – the list goes on. And lessons taught in such a session are likely to be better retained.

2. Kids learn to care for themselves outdoors

When there’s no fridge, microwave, or even running water on hand, kids will have to learn other ways to eat, drink, and take care of themselves. They will likely have to be taught, of course – but adults can certainly show kids how to cook food over an open fire or treat or boil water to make it safe for consumption. Such lessons are fun to learn, and might come in handy in the future – especially if there is a zombie apocalypse.

3. Kids learn to respect life

There is lots of life outdoors – plants, animals, insects, birds. By being outdoors, kids are having a sleepover in the homes of more of nature’s creatures. Children will learn to respect the environment and the various ecosystems they are exploring. Parents and teachers should of course encourage this by showing how to make a minimal impact on the areas they are camping in.

4. Kids learn outdoor safety

Outdoor safety is a useful skill even when you are not camping in remote locations. It’s good to know that you shouldn’t eat those berries or those mushrooms, that you shouldn’t touch that spider, that you shouldn’t dive into a strange lake or pond. Kids can learn that while the outdoors is your friend, it is also a wild and potentially dangerous place. Respect should be given.

5. Kids learn cooperation

If you’ve ever tried to pitch a tent by yourself, you know how difficult that can be! It’s much easier to work together to get things accomplished outdoors. Cooperation while camping is very important when it comes to setting up, searching for food, cooking, playing, or cleaning up after an outdoor adventure. Children can learn how important cooperation is outdoors and take these lessons back home or to the school classroom.

And here’s a bonus reason… it is beautiful out there! And there are plenty of amazing places outdoors all over the world where you can take children to experience the beauty of nature.

If you’re going camping this summer, have fun and stay safe!

Lessons in wax

Barack Obama in waxThe other day we visited the Madame Tussauds wax museum in Orlando, Florida. It was an interesting visit, and my first time at a Madame Tussauds.

One thing that surprised me was how interactive the attraction is. Alongside the wax mannequins, nearly every exhibit features a variety of interactive games, quizzes, mini-sports, musical instruments, costumes, and other assorted props and activities that kids (and adults) can freely play with. Before visiting the museum I had expected that the various wax figures would be cordoned off, while people would work their way through the museum in a long queue, as is typical in museums and museum-like settings. However, much of the Madame Tussauds was quite open, and people were invited to touch and otherwise interact with the various wax figures on display. I saw plenty of people taking selfies with their favorite mannequins.

Martin Luther King, Jr. in waxMadame Tussauds had some educational value, but it was somewhat limited. Each wax mannequin featured a little plaque on a nearby wall that presented information about the various historical figures behind the mannequins. However, while the wax museum could have been quite a significant educational experience for students, I found that most of the figures were of famous celebrities. There were a few important figures from history who were featured – Ponce de Leon, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. They even had a replica of Madame Tussaud herself, with an explanation of how she created her original wax mannequins. However, the vast majority of wax figures were of current or recent celebrities – Taylor Swift, Jimmy Fallon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Reynolds, and so on. Of course, you could learn a bit about these celebrities while touring the exhibit, but the Madame Tussauds wasn’t really set up to be an educational experience; it is meant to be simple entertainment for an hour or so.

In all, it was a fun visit.