STEAM-Rolling Through Space

STEM in the classroom can be enhanced by adding the “A” from “Arts” to make STEAM. STEAM creates full, cross-curricular learning. Galileo said, “Mathematics is the language of the universe.” To expand on this, we can also add:

  • Science is the translation
  • Engineering puts it all together
  • Technology makes it real
  • Arts bring it to everyone

NASA has unique missions and education resources that can be integrated into your classroom instruction to introduce STEAM into your teaching. One such mission is Voyager. The Voyager mission is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Voyager lends itself to be an exciting mission to bring the arts into your classroom. First, just a little background on the Voyager missions. The twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. Continuing on their more-than-39-year journey since their 1977 launches, they each are much farther away from Earth and the sun than Pluto. In August 2012, Voyager 1 made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago. Scientists hope to learn more about this region when Voyager 2, in the “heliosheath” — the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar medium — also reaches interstellar space. Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network, or DSN. The primary mission was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. After making a string of discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and intricacies of Saturn’s rings — the mission was extended. Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune, and is still the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets. The adventurers’ current mission, the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM), will explore the outermost edge of the Sun’s domain. And beyond.

NASA placed an ambitious  message aboard Voyager 1 and 2, a kind of time capsule, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials. The Voyager message is carried by a phonograph record, a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. Voyager’s Golden Record can be a fascinating tool to integrate language, music, imagery and art into your students’ learning. This can be accomplished with:

Language: The Golden Record contains Greetings to the Universe in 55 different languages. For example, in English, a child says, “Hello, from the children of planet Earth.” Challenge your students to compose their own “greeting” that could be added to the Golden Record. Have them record their greeting and share with their class.

Music / Sounds: The Golden Record contains Music from Earth, a collection of 27 musical selections from different cultures and eras. Also included are 21 collections of Sounds of Earth. What music and/or sounds would your students choose to put on the Golden Record? Have your students make recordings of the music and/or sounds they would like to add to the record and share with their class. Have them write and/or share with the class the reason for their selected music and sound.

Art / Images: The Golden Record contains 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. What image would your students choose to put on the record? Challenge your students to create, or select, their own image they would like to add to the record and share with their class. Have them write and/or share with the class the reason for their image.

Art and the Cosmic Connection is an additional NASA resource that integrates arts into your STEM classroom. This resource uses the elements of art — shape, line, color, texture, value — students make sense of images of planets, asteroids, comets and moons, honing observation skills and inspiring questions. Learners of all ages create a beautiful piece of art while learning to recognize the geology on planetary surfaces. The lesson begins with what we know here on Earth and then uses that awareness to help students interpret features on distant objects in the solar system. Art and the Comic Connection offers a terrific bridge between Earth and space science, as well as a wonderful dive into the potential of science to inspire art — and art to empower science!

Finally, NASA Space Place is a great resource to find other cross-curricular activities, for the elementary classroom, that include the arts. These activities include “Write the Book on Weather Metrics,” “Be a Cosmic Poet” and “Make a Galaxy Montage.”

STEAM-roll through space and let the arts enhance your classroom.

Steve Culivan
Educator Professional Development Specialist, NASA STEM EPDC
NASA Stennis Space Center