Teacher goes to moon and back to get students excited about scienceDec 01, 2021 03:08PM ● By Jet Burnham
Albert Serrano examines a moonrock sample through a digital microscope that was funded through donorschoose.org. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Earth science teacher Andrew Holmes goes to the moon and back to inspire students’ interest.
“As a NASA-certified instructor, I have the unique opportunity to request actual moonrocks so that my students in our diverse demographic can experience something they never thought they would live to see,” Holmes said. “Billionaires have the opportunity to see space, but my students, who may one day work for them or become one themselves, need to see what is out there to motivate them.”
Holmes, who teaches at West Jordan Middle School, requested moonrocks for an earth science lab in October. Students examined samples of rocks and soil and made observations based on what they’d learned about earth’s rocks and soil. Some samples were enclosed in glass but students were able to actually touch some of them.
“It’s something other people don’t get to do,” ninth grader Albert Serrano said. “It's cool to know it's from the moon.”
Ninth grader Phoenix Wright said being able to touch the moonrocks was better than just learning about it from a picture or video.
“You can do a lot more observation when it’s right in front of you,” she said.
Holmes had some concerns about using the moonrocks in his lesson. They arrived just as a popular TikTok challenge was encouraging kids to steal from their school. However, the security for the samples is tight; Holmes completed a specialized training and followed a strict protocol of how and where the rocks could be stored and displayed. He was not allowed to post anything about it on social media and news outlets could not print anything about the location of the moonrocks until after they’d been returned to NASA.
Holmes was also concerned that the students wouldn’t appreciate the opportunity. He said teachers struggle to engage students because they can’t compete with the quick-paced entertainment kids are used to getting on their phones.
“We've seen a lot of apathy with the students this year, more than ever before,” Holmes said. “It’s like a disconnection—the students just don't care as much [about their grades] as they used to.”
Holmes would have liked for more of his students to be as excited as WJMS staff members were when he invited them to a private viewing of the moonrocks.
Science has become a more interactive class, due to new state science standards which encourage student-driven exploration.
“I show them data and then give them scenarios and they have to come up with their own point of views,” Homes said. “I think for the most part the kids are enjoying it. Especially since this year, we've kind of redesigned the classes to run on new standards. It has revitalized the class.”
Earlier this year, he created a starlight lab so that students could see the color signatures of stars illuminated as high-voltage electricity was sent through vials of pure elements.
“I had them doing NASA level work,” Holmes said. “The same way NASA uses a telescope to identify what stars are made of, students were doing the same thing.”
Holmes incorporates interactive activities and labs as often as he can, but there are limitations due to his large class sizes and equipment costs. Holmes has no specific class budget, but he writes grants, shops for used equipment, asks for donations through online sites and has the support of a generous principal to be able to provide a few interactive labs and activities each year.
He also funds activities himself or finds free ones, such as having students write or draw on postcards which will travel to space in one of Blue Origin’s rocket test flights and then be mailed back to them.