‘Micronaut’ explorers count down for mission              

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Examination equipment to examine extraterrestrial materials is placed in the Scobee Education Center. The equipment will allow the micronaut pre-k missions to expand their knowledge of the universe. The program will have a total of 22 missions completed by Dec. 4. Photo by Gabriela Rodriguez.

Examination equipment to examine extraterrestrial materials is placed in the Scobee Education Center. The equipment will allow the micronaut pre-k missions to expand their knowledge of the universe. The program will have a total of 22 missions completed by Dec. 4. Photo by Gabriela Rodriguez.

Scobee program for kids welcomes them into an interactive journey about space and science.

By Gabriela Rodriguez

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Children in Graciela Arizmendi’s Head Start class at Carvajal Early Childhood Education Center sit in a spaceship they made in preparation for their Micronaut mission in April. Courtesy Photo

Children in Graciela Arizmendi’s Head Start class at Carvajal Early Childhood Education Center sit in a spaceship they made in preparation for their Micronaut mission in April. Courtesy Photo

Starting tomorrow, pre-K, kindergarten and elementary students will descend on Scobee Planetarium to make a giant leap into hands-on activities and simulated missions.

The 4- to 7-year-old “Micronauts” will land on campus Nov. 3-11 and Dec. 1-4 to expand what they know about science and space.

“Young kids are natural explorers,” said Scobee Director Rick Varner.

“This program feeds into the natural scientist in every little kid, and it helps to guide them into some of the inquiries associated with earth and space science.”

Micronaut program specialist Ellen White said it is affiliated with the San Antonio Head Start program for schools in low-income neighborhoods.

Parents and teachers received separate training beforehand. Micronaut teachers spent six hours learning hands-on activities to do with the children a couple of weeks before the program. Parents, who trained for two hours, learned about programs and activities they can do at home, White said.

Children paint papier-mâché planets in Graciela Arizmendi’s Head Start class at Carvajal Early Childhood Education Center in April. The class was preparing for a Micronaut mission to Scobee Planetarium. Courtesy Photo

Children paint papier-mâché planets in Graciela Arizmendi’s Head Start class at Carvajal Early Childhood Education Center in April. The class was preparing for a Micronaut mission to Scobee Planetarium. Courtesy Photo

The Micronaut program is for pre-K through third grade. The three-week mission will welcome 22 classes with about 16-18 children in each. Two groups will attend each day at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

“It is more than just a field trip. It is a mission,” Varner said. The missions will last about an hour to an hour and a half.

Scobee offers a similar program for middle schools, which involves more reading, lab and higher-level hands-on activities, Varner said.

The Challenger Learning Center leads the middle schools, which includes fifth- through eighth-grade, directed by lead flight director Jennifer Becerra and academic program specialist Celina Terrones.

Both programs started last summer. Scobee offered one of each, but organizers hope to offer three of each next summer and 22 Micronaut programs this fall.

The Micronauts have hands-on activities and interaction on computer desktops in the Space Station section of Scobee. Those activities involve early learning skills that deal with numbers and mathematics, reading and color association.

“We don’t want it to be a field trip; we wanted to be part of what they teach, to build up on what they’ve been learning for a week or two,” Varner said. “I have two very important goals, and I look at the pre-K guidelines — in other grades, the TEKS — so I follow these standards from the missions.”

Before embarking on their mission the Micronauts get blue vests representing astronauts’ shuttle uniforms. Older kids receive official black lanyards.

School groups go through a small briefing to get them ready. They then proceed to the Shuttle Mission simulator, a room that holds 20 students in rows of 10 facing each other.

First, they buckle up in special seats, which vibrate and make the experience more realistic. Footage of a rocket ship taking off, donated by NASA, is shown on several big screens on each side above the seats. This simulates landing on the space station in space. Then they go to the “Turbo Lift,” which actually is a regular elevator that takes them to the second floor. The kids continue to a lobby with laser lights and a dense mist that will “decontaminate” them before they proceed to the Space Station.

The space station offers different activities about space and science in a circular room divided into two with a little walk-through section in the middle. The mood will be set with more lights and sounds that simulate a real space station. They also can use the reading room, where they can curl up in beanbags with one of the books about space and science.

Lastly, they go through the reentry phase in the shuttle mission simulator where the kids can see real landing footage from a drone that lands in front of the planetarium.

“My favorite thing is the expressions and the comments from people that take part, both the teachers and the children, even with the adults when they go through a mission,” Varner said. “The place is amazing, but the people make it even more so.”

White said she wants to develop a learning experience that is more than just a field trip.

“My goals are that they know the careers that are involved in space science, and to train teachers on what is STEM education,” White said. “Here at the program is how they see how it all fits together.”

For more information, call Scobee Planetarium at 210-486-0100.

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