- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2001

A group of Anne Arundel County students will blast into space history this summer.

The six girls and two boys from Fort Smallwood Elementary School in Pasa-dena, Md., have teamed up with the dental school at the University of Maryland in Baltimore to create an experiment called Braces in Space. Their project has earned a spot on the space shuttle Endeavor, scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral in July.

Braces in Space was proposed last year by teacher Cathy C. Strickler´s fourth-grade students. The experiment will test the effect of space flight on the small rubber bands used in orthodontia. The children will compare two sets of oral rubber bands on Earth and in space for strength, color and surface texture.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration tagged the experiment in part for its "interesting twist," says Chuck Brodell, a project manager for the space experiment module program at NASA´s Wallops Island, Va., facility.

"No one ever tried to see what happened to braces in space before," Mr. Brodell says. "The kids believe that if we colonize Mars or start living in space, there will be kids with crooked teeth that need to be fixed. That´s the perspective the kids take they think far ahead."

Ms. Strickler says she embraced the idea of involving her students in space-flight experiments after hearing about the opportunity at a state education conference.

"I went back and told my principal I wanted to be in on the pilot," she says.

Ms. Strickler´s interested students cast about for inspiration. Student Tyler Powell, now a fifth-grader, says he thought up the idea for Braces in Space "because has braces, and that day, my brother was getting them, too."

Once NASA gave a nod to the proposal, each student was assigned specific jobs. One child completed a timeline on the project to present to the whole school. Several worked on photographing the experiment; some created charts to organize the data onto the computer software. All tasks and responsibilities were intended to model scientific technique.

"This is authentic learning," Ms. Strickler says. "We are conducting our experiment just like a scientist does."

All eight children traveled to Wallops Island in January. They watched scientists load their experiment into the shoe-box-size capsule it will share with projects from four other Anne Arundel County elementary schools: Pasadena, Ridgeway, Windsor Farm and Richard Henry Lee.

Although NASA is interested in the results of student experiments, "it´s not NASA research, so to speak," Mr. Brodell says. "The main reason for it is to teach the scientific method."

This scientific method evokes myriad experiences for her students, Ms. Strickler says.

"So many times when I was growing up, I´d say, 'Why am I learning this?´ But this experiment includes math skills, social skills such as public relations; the children must be proficient with software and using the computer, be able to do presentations ," she says. "It´s a really great thing something every teacher wishes they could do with every class they teach."


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