Students discover new worlds inside their own school

Ryan Anderson, The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.
·3 min read

Mar. 29—Outer space, a rain forest and a weather station: Cedar Ridge Elementary School students were able to seemingly visit all of them recently without leaving their school.

Shea MacFadden led her fellow fourth-grade teachers in the endeavor, where students created those environments inside large pods. Each student was responsible for an individual portion of the project, and they combined to build three distinct bubbles in which the rest of the school's students could learn during the final week of February.

"Our goal was to provide a field trip experience, because COVID-19 has kind of taken that away this year, and I actually did this when I was in fourth grade" at Chatsworth Elementary School, MacFadden said. "If I remember it all these years later, I thought it would be something my students would remember."

MacFadden's students concentrated on space, and "we wanted you to get a sense of how small you are in the solar system," she said. "We have a black hole, planets, the Mars rover Perseverance, the Hubble Space Telescope, constellations and the International Space Station."

It was "really fun to learn about the sky and stars, and cool to (help other students) learn about all of the constellations," said Kyleigh Higdon, one of MacFadden's students. "I really liked it (and) would do it again."

Higdon is "really into the zodiac" portion of the sky, so she selected Leo, one of the constellations of the zodiac, for her project, she said. She learned Leo is Latin for "lion," and though the constellation was one of the earliest-recognized constellations — thus, numerous cultures and languages had their own names for it — those terms all meant lion.

There's good reason for that, as the constellation resembles a crouching lion, she said. Leo is in the northern celestial hemisphere, between Cancer and Virgo.

Emma Johnson focused on animals for her project: endangered animals of the rain forest, including the three-toed sloth and orangutans.

"I really like animals, and you need to focus on endangered animals, because they've been going out," Johnson said. Extinctions "make me sad."

Sloths reside high up in trees, and as trees are cut down, their habitat diminishes, she said. Deforestation is also a threat to orangutans, as is illegal poaching.

Three species (the Bornean orangutan, the Sumatran orangutan and the Tapanuli orangutan) are considered critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of mammals.

Jancarlos Pineda's handmade color weather map was a main attraction inside the weather bubble for students, and "I'm happy they appreciate my work," he said. "It was fun, and interesting to learn."

He drew the United States, then filled in colors according to weather conditions on Feb. 17, he said. He also drew weather symbols, such as for clouds and the sun, in areas where appropriate.

Also in the weather station pod, students created instruments like an anemometer, barometer, thermometer and wind vane, MacFadden said. "What a great hands-on experience for them."

MacFadden's students are passionate about space, which is why they made that their pod focus, and "they have a really good understanding about the topic," she said. "All were invested and had an interest, and when you have investment and interest, it shows in the product."

The fact Perseverance is on Mars, sending back images to Earth for all to see, helps boost the engagement for students, she said.

"It's current, it's happening — it's not isolated — so it's real to them, and space is an unlimited boundary for discovery."