Houston, We DON’T Have a Problem

The early math research associates at the AIMS Center for Math and Science have studied and written about the importance of spatial reasoning skills in the early learning classroom.  Our blogs have suggested ways teachers can promote spatial reasoning skills by having children learn directions on a grid mat, manipulate puzzle pieces, and create Lego structures. We know that we use spatial reasoning as adults in navigating directions while driving in an unfamiliar community or in backward mapping the amount of time to prepare and arrive at an event.

On my annual Refuel, Relax and Re-calibrate vacation, I had the joy of traveling through Texas to visit several places of “awe.”  At the Houston Space Station, I joined a tour to see the Saturn V rocket and relive the history of the Apollo Program…when man went to the moon!  Our guide was very informative and seemed to know more than just the average docent. After the tour, I joined a small informal group to learn more about the Apollo program and about the volunteer, Lee Norbraten. Lee was a mission planner for NASA in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. His job required very well developed spatial reasoning skills since he assisted in the calculation of the trajectory and landing of the Apollo rocket on the moon. The rocket is 363 feet tall or the equivalent of a 36 story skyscraper; it weighs over 6.2 million pounds or 400 elephants.  Lee was able to calculate this monstrosity to fly in the air for 238,000 miles from earth to the moon and know its exact location at any given time. The one thing that bothered him was that the rocket landed on the moon four seconds apart from his calculations. Lee had majored in math and physics in college, and upon graduation, he applied for the NASA program where he became an engineer.  He had never taken an engineering class, but his math skill sets made him invaluable to the program.

For many educators, summer is a season to rejuvenate.  However, when you return to the classroom in the fall and those young children enter your classroom, ask yourself how well you will prepare the next astronaut or mission planner for the Mars Space program for the goal orbiting year of 2030 and beyond?  Remember to “do the math” and help launch the next generation into the future.


2 Responses to Houston, We DON’T Have a Problem

  1. Great article. Agree with the final line, “Do the Math”. As I am relaxing and rejuvenating, I am thinking of ways to teach Math. Currently, I don’t teach math. I teach Science and Robotics. However, through those mediums math is incorporated. Students use basic math functions that include algorithms, algebra and spatial reasoning when creating programs for their robots. In the past, during our Robotics club meetings, I noticed how my students used critical thinking involving math to complete tasks. They marveled at how easy Math was without using paper and pencils.

    • Thank you for your comment, Chris. You are certainly ahead of the curve by implementing a comprehensive STEM program via your Science and Robotics classes. Foremost, you are teaching your students the joys of learning math concepts through active learning, critical thinking and trial and error. Aka.grit. You, no doubt, are a stellar teacher.

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