Hurricane Watch: 

Middle Country Students Track the Storm!


The Middle Country School District launched an exciting new program last year in a fifth grade class. It was a great success and the district decided to involve more teachers this year. The program is called Challenger e-Mission Operation Monserrat, and it is offered through the Challenger Learning Center at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia (CLC). 

The new programs bring Challenger Missions into classrooms and are an innovative way for teachers to introduce earth science by engaging students in real-life situations. Fifth grade teachers currently involved include Meredith McCumber and Dolores Skokna from New Lane, Joan Sweeney from Stagecoach, Carol Volpe from Hawkins Path, David Taylor from North Coleman, Eric Burchard from Jericho, Claudia Smith from Oxhead, and Michele Miller from Eugene Auer. All of the teachers participated in a training session at Western Suffolk BOCES and are prepared for their missions with a pre-flight curriculum and technology support.

Before embarking on their e-Mission, each class models a set of processes followed by NASA shuttle teams. Students begin by writing letters of commitment, as well as résumés, expressing their interest. They are introduced to teamwork, and develop team rules, a motto and a team. At the same time, students learn about earth systems science (ESS), the study of the four spheres of Earth - the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere. Equipped with a working knowledge of ESS, and after participating in a series of analytical studies and hands-on activities, the students are finally ready to take on Challenger Center e-Mission Operation Monserrat!

During this mission, students track an approaching hurricane and an erupting volcano that occurred in the summer of 1996 on Montserrat Island in the Caribbean. Students predict rock fall and then determine how these various conditions will impact the island’s air, water, land, vegetation and population. Working in "expert" teams of four, students gather real-time data, analyze it, and make recommendations to Mission Control. Using computers, the Internet and videoconferencing students interact with a flight director at CLC to track Operation Montserrat Island. The flight directors guide students through finding a solution to each problem or crisis.

The Challenger e-Mission improves students’ problem solving, critical thinking and communication skills. "It is a wonderful blend of classroom learning with real life experiences," comments Estelle Burns, coordinator of science and math. "We are all very excited about this project."