20 Aug 2014
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Moon Rocks Land at Indian Hill School

Teachers Thomas Woods and Michael Welter bring astronomy lessons to life for upper elementary school students.

Indian Hill School science teacher Thomas Woods received an unassuming package from Houston earlier this month, a box weighing about 12 pounds. But this was no ordinary FedEx delivery. For one thing, he was the only person in the school authorized to sign for it or handle its contents.

And what did it contain? Moon rocks, meteorites, and lunar soil. Thanks to Woods and special education teacher Michael Welter, the very lucky students of Indian Hill School got the chance to see 4.5 billion year old rocks up close and personal (but no touching!), courtesy of the Apollo space missions.

“Just the fact that you can see a moon rock with your eyes is amazing,” said Woods, as another class of curious students was filing in to look at the samples and hear his PowerPoint astronomy lesson.  

“It's a rare treat.”

One by one, students looked under the microscope to see 12 small samples of moon rock and meteorites encased in disks of thick lucite, plus a small vial of lunar soil that sat on the counter. They listened intently as Woods shared data from the Apollo missions, turning science fiction to science fact: the moon has oxygen (in the soil), and water (in the ice caps), and if you mix lunar soil with earth soil, hearty plants grow. And did they know that it costs $10,000 to send one pound into space?

The consensus from the kids was that it was all “really cool.”

Every student in the school got to see the rocks this year, said Woods, and the plan is to request the lunar rocks every other year from now on, so that eventually all of the district's students will have seen moon rocks in person.

NASA lends lunar samples to schools and museums for educational purposes. Woods took a training workshop through NASA which certified him to be able to request and handle the lunar samples. The timing of their arrival dovetailed nicely with the current astronomy lessons for this year's 5th graders.

Woods and Welter also acquired some nifty space program swag.  On display in the science room was a velcro-covered flight bag, a pristine tile from the outer skin of the space Shuttle, flag patches, and what's believed to be a shirt -- size medium -- worn by astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. NASA has been offering space program paraphernalia to schools and museums as it dismantles the Shuttle program, just for the cost of shipping. It was Welter who waited online at the stroke of midnight for one of NASA's “garage sales” to open.  He's expecting space suit components, a liquid nitrogren canister, and more items in the coming months.

“This is such a great opportunity for the students,” said Welter, who has also been serving as interim vice principal, “to be able to actually see with their own eyes, it makes science concrete.”

While the moon rocks have to be returned to the Johnson Space Center, the space gear belongs to Indian Hill School.

“NASA wanted teachers to get these items for new generations to appreciate and to learn from,” said Welter. "They even gave away a whole space Shuttle.”

Imagine the postage.

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