What are comets made of? Where do they come from? How do they move through the sky?

Sixth grade students at Horace Mann Middle School in San Francisco found out first-hand as they investigated the topic of comets in May. Their teacher, Dinorah Salazar, introduced the topic of comets and did preliminary activities with students during the first week in May. At the end of the week, the class convened in the school computer lab to access The Comet's Tale lesson on-line.

Illustration of a comet's orbit from
The Comet's Tale on-line lesson.

Students thoroughly enjoyed mixing dry ice, water, ammonia, dirt and other comet ingredients.

The Comet's Tale, an information-rich resource developed by the Center for Science Education at the Space Sciences Laboratory, explores the origins, characteristics and orbits of comets. Students worked at their own pace to access a gallery of images, read about comets through history, or try to guess what ingredients make up a comet.

Finally, special guests Nahide Craig and Barney Desroches from the Space Sciences Laboratory arrived in Dinorah's classroom on May 10 and 11 with nearly 60 pounds of dry ice, mixing bowls, plastic bags, and other comet making tools and ingredients. Nahide and Barney offered more information about comets, and led the hands-on "Make A Comet" activity for four classes of students (about 90 altogether). Students were divided into groups of 4 or 5, and each group made their very own simulated comet.

The final product is less glamorous up close
than far-away comets that streak
across the night sky.

As a member of the ISTAT team, Dinorah not only uses ISTAT digital materials like The Comet's Tale but offers feedback and suggestions to make them better. In this instance, she noted that the vocabulary in the on-line lesson was challenging for many of her 6th grade students, particularly for English language learners and learning disabled students. The group is now working on an illustrated glossary to help students with the terms introduced in the lesson.

To see The Comet's Tale and other great on-line space science lessons for various grade levels, visit the SEGway (Science Education Gateway) website.

—Photographs by Barney Desroches. Story by Colleen Whitney and Barney Desroches.




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