With no countdown to blast-off, or in this case, "cycling through space," Wayne Gorry's fifth graders headed out Oct. 27 to bicycle a scale model of the solar system. At 8:30 a.m., after bike and helmet safety checks, they put feet to pedals for the first lap around the big lake at Green Valley Park.
"We're going to do 37 laps," said Perla Perez, who studied Neptune for her report.
"It takes a long time to get through the solar system," added Sydnee Klabbatz, who spent a week working on Jupiter.
Gorry's students put beads on a string in class to show the scale of the solar system, but to get a better understanding of the distance between and relationship among the planets, he had them "ride" around them.
"Plus, I think about bike riding a lot," he laughed.
"There are three different planets on the first lap that we will visit," he told students.
It took a couple of minutes, and half a lap, for everyone to get to "Mercury," the closest planet to the sun.
"Three of the planets are all very close to the sun so they are all in the first lap. We will end up riding 36.7 laps."
He gave the first of several pep talks after his students learned that Mercury had no substantial atmosphere, with temperatures ranging from 427 degrees Celsius on the sunny side to -183 degrees on the dark side.
"Anyone worn out yet?" he asked.
"No!" rang out 19 voices.
"Anyone think we can't make it to the next planet?"
"Where are we going?"
Off they road to "Venus," then to "Earth."
"We've gone a million miles," Gorry was heard to say as they left Earth for another half lap around the lake to "Mars."
Not all the students finished the entire 22 miles. Gorry said it was harder for some because of their bikes and their physical condition. The 19 students broke for lunch and took hydration breaks before arriving at Pluto exhausted, but filled with excitement about their accomplishments five hours after they "took off."
The next day, the young "space travelers" complained of sore legs and sore bottoms.
"I had several of them saying it was the most fun thing they had ever done in school," Gorry said.
"While the fun was important, I think the bigger thing is that the ride really impressed upon them the scale of the solar system.
"I think it motivates children when they can do, learn something differently, but they also had to do a lot of class work to prepare for this."
His students have been looking up facts about the planet they were assigned in books and on the Internet. They were paired in teams of two and three to do research draw and color a poster of their planet.
"Sharing the reports with the class gave them a good opportunity to speak, rather than just listening to me lecture," Gorry said.
JRE fifth graders go to the Grand Canyon each year and last year the class also went to the heart center, Gorry said.
Gorry thinks he can incorporate bicycling into other "virtual" field trips across the North American continent, in a state called Arizona within a town called Payson on a planet 93 million miles from the sun.