Although seriously cool, out of this world, things occur in Scott Davidson’s combined math and science class, the class itself is not overly serious.
Next month, the Rim Country Middle School class of seventh-graders will travel to Arizona State University and look at an image of Mars that students will take with a special camera. ASU is working in conjunction with NASA to offer this program to schools nationwide. Payson’s proximity to ASU allows students to travel there and spend a few days learning about the Mars Student Imaging Project.
Meanwhile, students on one recent February afternoon were learning how to determine the area of a circle — pi times radius squared.
This leads Davidson to tell what he calls a really stupid joke. A kid from a small hick town returns home during a college break. His grandpa asks him, “Tell me what you learned there in that college.”
The kid responds, “pi∑r2.”
The grandpa slaps him upside the head and says, “Boy, everybody know that pies are round.”
The kids love this.
Approximately 20 students take Davidson’s STEM class, which is a back-to-back class of science and math. The double periods allow more time for in-depth projects and cross subject connections.
“This is the gifted group,” said Davidson. “They’re very intelligent kids.”
Payson schools Director of Special Services Barbara Fitzgerald says STEM classes grew out of national concern that students are not studying advanced math and science in college.
“The whole idea is that you’re going to engage kids in the doing of the science and the engineering and the technology and math, to encourage them to take that when they get to college,” she said.
Davidson’s class applied to take part in ASU’s Mars Student Imaging Project. In early March, they’ll travel to the college, and receive the image they took of Mars using a visible wavelength camera onboard the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. The Odyssey orbits Mars every two hours.
The program allows teams of students to formulate a question and then pick a section of Mars to photograph using the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera.
Davidson’s class is asking the question: In areas with both water features and volcanic features, do water features cross through volcanic features like lava flows, or the other way around? Davidson said the results can reveal which came first — water or volcanoes.
Later in March, Davidson’s class will again visit ASU, this time to see laboratories that are researching various things like biofuels, astrobiology and electron microscopes.
“The hope is to spark my students’ interest in science and give them a glimpse into current research,” wrote Davidson in an e-mail.
And judging by the kids’ enthusiasm, it’s working.