Sunday, November 18, 2012

BU RET 2012:Classroom Implications

It has been more than 3 months since the end of the BU RET program I attended this  summer but its impact on my teaching and consequently the learning experience of my students is just beginning to be felt.

It all started at the beginning of the year when students were asking questions about the poster that was taped on the wall adjacent to the classroom entrance. They were eager to hear about the big helium balloon in one of the pictures and this was enough to begin a dialogue about science in general and space physics in particular.

Since then I have used anecdotes from my experience at BUSAT to motivate my students and show them application of the skills that they would learn in physics class. The importance of collaboration, taking notes and making all communication explicit have been at the top of my list.

Furthermore, two weeks ago my students finalized they're water projects but this time around instead of making a poster board to showcase their experience they generated a poster in electronic format by using a power point template very similar to the ones that the RETs used this past summer; the only exception was that instead of Boston University the institution they were "affiliated" with was Somerville High School. Their dedication and desire to complete the task arose to new heights when I told them that I created something very similar when I presented this past summer pointing at the poster taped near the classroom door.

Poster Presentation created from a group of 3 students

In the months to come, I am looking forward to collaborating with the astronomy club advisor at Somerville High School to replicate the near space balloon launch that I had the opportunity to do this past summer at BU. After showing my students a video that Jay De Furia and I put together to summarize the experience they all wanted to be part of the Near Space Balloon Team for the spring 2013 launch.   

Friday, August 17, 2012

For more information on my RET experience at Boston University please visit my website:

Week 6- Presentation, Poster Session and Wrapping Things up...
       This marks my last blog entry for this summer. We are leaving BU feeling that we accomplished most of the things we set off at the beginning of the program. The revised labs along with the balloon project, although in need of some further improvement, are something that can surely help other educators to inspire and teach their students about near space. From a personal stand point the experience broadened my knowledge of near space science, team work in a laboratory setting and the collegiality that goes along with it. I cannot thank enough everyone that made this experience possible:

      BUSAT                                    RET Project Team 
Dr.Theodore Fritz                            Dr.Helen Fawcett

Nate Darling                                     Cynthia Brossman

Jean Kalvange                                    Dr.Mike Ruane

Kamen Kozarev

Dr.Mike Pavel

Brian Walsh

Steven Yee

Josh Mendez
And the rest of the BU Student Satellite Team

Last but definitely not least I would like to thank all of the 2012 BU RETs; special thanks to my lab partner Jay DeFuria for being a great team player and making this a very successful summer.
                                                                 The RET 2012 Crew   : ]

Week 5- Launching our Near Space Balloon....
         The week we have been looking forward all summer is finally here. We spent the first couple of days working on putting to gather the payloads and finalizing all the components that went into them. Tuesday night was by far the longest workday yet where Jay and I, along with Jean, Nate and  Kamen were in the College of Arts and Sciences until 11pm making sure that everything was a go for the next day.

         The balloon launch itself was a total blast. Although it took us about 1 hour to assemble the balloon and fill it with helium the anticipation was definitely worth it. Below you will find pictures of the team working on the balloon and payloads right before launching it.

Week 4 - Teachers Teaching Teachers...
          This week has been the busiest so far in terms of the variety of things we have had to do. We revisited the cleanroom on Tuesday to finalize our project. The picture below shows what the end result of it looks like. Although to most people the final product looks like a CD room with something sticked on it, the process to make it was far off from a bumper sticker.
                                       Team Space Teacher on a wafer

         The rest of the week was used to prepare for the labs we were running with the teachers and putting together a timeline to complete the Near Space Balloon by Tuesday. The labs went great. The teachers seemed to understand them and for the most part seemed excited by the experience. Given that both labs were closely related to the balloon launch, the motivation to complete them was definitely there.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Week 3 - Paving the Ground...

        After spending all of last week understanding the details of our project, we began this week by putting together a detailed agenda for the completion of the project in a timely manner. Once we got a better idea on the things that needed to get done we started to prioritize.
       We decided to start working on Labs#2,5 since we are running them for the rest of the RET teachers next friday and its always a good idea to get things done ahead of time to leave some room for complications.
                                Soldering the MAX chips together in preparation
                                            for the Temperature Sensors Lab

In the process we realized that re-writing the labs to be more high school friendly and doing an adequate job with the teacher manual is a very time consuming job. A lot was achieved this past week in that front but a good amount still remains to get done. Most importantly, we were able to successfully complete the labs and we double checked that we have all the materials needed.
            In addition to our BUSAT work, this week marked our first Cleanroom experience. After getting over the fact that our outfits were too cool for school and about 10000000 pictures later we were able to appreciate this advanced laboratory were the number of particles floating around was kept in check at all times. Helen Fawcett became our lab instructor for the day. She was very patient and took time answering our numerous questions.

                            My lab partner Jay DeFuria and I goofing around                  
                                                        in the cleanroom

Friday, July 13, 2012

For more information on my RET experience at Boston University please visit my website:

Week 2 - The Project: 
         After a about a week and a half of reading through material from previous years we feel that we finally understand the big picture of our project. Our main goal is to build and launch a near-space balloon to collect data as well as pictures during its flight to a maximum height of roughly 100,000feet(19miles).
        In addition to the balloon launch we are to redesign a series of labs that lead to the final launch with each lab addressing a different issue/aspect of the near-space balloon. After a little reading throughout the old write ups we realized that there were two main problems with the old write ups: a)The language used was not very high school friendly and 2)they were not very inquiry based but rather cook book like. Together with Jay we decided to revamp each lab.  To address both those issues as well as answer many questions that we were asking as we read through the labs  for the first time we decided to add a teacher version. Among other things the teacher version will include the state and national science standards, a list of activities (hooks) to generate students interest for the labs, websites were the materials could be bought as well as a "Background Information" section where we would include information that the teacher should know before doing the lab. We also thought to include a series of pictures and video footage to go along with each lab to better illustrate what the lab would look like in practice.
         The balloon itself has several components and issues that need to be addressed before the launch; amongst other things we need to hack the Cannon cameras to take pictures continuously for a period of 2 hours, build a cut-off mechanism that would ensure the balloon comes back to the ground in case it does not explode when it gets high enough and the building of a temperature sensor that would work in high altitude. We decided that in the interest of time it would be wise to focus on ordering the materials needed before we moved on to any other tasks. Once the order list was completed and sent out we decided to work on revising the lab write ups to make them high school best practice labs; this part took more time than we thought.
         Further more we made sure to meet with Jean, a graduate student that will be helping us build one of the components of the balloon. Together we designed an action plan to complete this sub-project in a timely manner. Jean seemed very enthusiastic to be part of the team. Most of the afternoon was spent trying to understand the electronic circuit that  After compiling a list of materials necessary to build the cute-off mechanism we decided to call it quits until we received the rest of the materials.
Week 1- Getting Acclimated...
The first week of the RET experience is about to be over and I find myself very content with the outcome. So far things have worked pretty smoothly and both Jay(my partner in crime) and I feel at ease with the new setting and the project we are assigned.

We are currently calling "home" an office in the 5th floor of the College of Arts and Sciences building. Our desks are in the same room as 2 undergraduate students working on unrelated projects but with a matching sense of humor that has made the past few days very pleasant. 

I will be working closely with Jay DeFuria, a proud member of Team SpaceTeachers(I will have to share the story of how our team name came to be at a later post). Jay is a biology teacher at Pioneer Valley High School in wester Massachusetts. Together we are planning on creating and refining a total of 6 labs that lead to a high altitude balloon launch.

 Both Dr.Fritz, our Principal Investigator(PI) and Nate, our project manager were very friendly and made sure that we settled in style. They have been checking with us continuously to make sure that we have what we need to start working. We have been bothering Nate quite a bit lately, making sure that he orders the materials we need to run out experiments and build the balloon. Fortunately for us, he is very patient and understands the importance of receiving the materials in a timely fashion.