COSI on Wheels visits Beverly

On Oct. 2, COSI brought its educational message to Beverly-Center Elementary School through the efforts of the Beverly-Center PTO. The topic of this fun and educational visit was “astronomy.”

The day began with a school assembly to introduce the students to the topic of astronomy and ended with each class revisiting the exhibit for hands-on activities and learning. In the morning session, students were introduced to their COSI adventure by helping map the solar system in both size and distance. While holding a rope to approximate the distance each planet is from the other with one hand, student volunteers held balls to show the planet’s size to scale. Students saw the terrestrial planets – those that can be walked on – represented by Mercury – ping pong ball, Venus – tennis ball, Earth- baseball, and Mars – golf ball. Moving to the other planets – those made of gases and that cannot be walked on -Jupiter – a large expanding ball made of pieces resembling K’nex building toys; Saturn – an exercise balance ball with a hula hoop for its rings; Uranus – soccer ball; and Neptune – basketball. From the sun to Neptune, our solar system stretches 3 billion miles. And as for size, students learned the sun would be the size of four school buses stacked end-to-end!

The students then learned a little more about the sun and the types of heat and light it produces. The presenter showed students the electromagnetic spectrum and discussed light energy. Ultra-violet light is the kind that can’t be seen but makes things visible. Students were shown a ‘picture’ on a white board – except there was no picture! That is until an ultra-violet light was shined on the board and a picture of Earth appeared! Another demonstration showed what the surface of the sun might be like, a laser pointer. In a sealed chamber, the laser light popped balloons and caused a fire!

Learning more about each of these planets making up our solar system, students learned: On Mars, the daily temperature reaches 800oF (twice as hot as an oven baking cookies!) and -300o F at night? Air pressure on Venus is a problem. Teacher Dawn Spurr was ‘vacuum sealed for freshness’ to demonstrate the need for a pressure suit when visiting Venus. The pressure reaches 1,300 pounds per square inch! Mars has been explored since 1997, first by Sojourner, then Spirit and Opportunity in 2004, followed by Curiosity in 2012. Curiosity is nuclear powered, as opposed to solar powered, allowing scientists to gather data and go exploring during the night. As for the other, outside gas planets, they are very cold and have no solid surface for standing and exploring. A “shout-out” was given to Pluto, which was once considered a planet, but “downgraded” once scientists discovered it orbits objects in space other than our sun.

Individual class visits during the rest of the day gave students a chance to further explore the mysteries of space. One of the students’ favorite demonstrations was discovering how much they would weigh on other planets by stepping on specially designed scales. They also had the chance to see if they could lift similar weight on other planets. Eighty-eight constellations were represented at a center showing the constellations in our sky. Heavy Lucite templates of each constellation challenged students to match the template with the correct constellation. Students were able to make drawing with rocks and observe with microscopes and magnifying glasses the differences between the rocks and discover rocks weren’t so boring after all. A journey to the moon allowed students to witness the effects of air pressure on objects in space. The poor little rubber ‘alien’ didn’t stand a chance! A spectroscopy gave students a chance to view the colors of gasses and how the colors break down the color in white light. Students were even given a chance to remotely control the Mars rover. They worked in pairs, with one student blindfolded and the other giving directions to trace the path of the rover. Not as easy as it sounds! With ‘alien eyes’, students put on different colored glasses and tried to guess what color the objects they were observing really were, giving them a chance to study visible light of the spectrum. Finally, students experienced planetary rotation by standing on a rotating platform and trying to control their movement while holding a spinning wheel or disc.

Helping students with each learning station were members of the Beverly-Center PTO. Assisting throughout the day were Carly Spindler, Missy Huck, Amista Naylor, Amanda Kasun, Marci Duskey, Dorothy Huck, Sandy Spindler and Beth Ward.

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Sue Sampson is a longtime columnist for The Parkersburg News & Sentinel.