Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM


LANG, N.P., Department of Geology, Mercyhurst University, Erie, PA 16546,

Engaging non-science majors in a college-level science curriculum can prove challenging. However, topics such as planetary exploration have a unique way of capturing one’s imagination and may serve as a means of robustly engaging non-science majors. In my introductory level non-major course Geol 112 Voyages to the Terrestrial Planets, I have attempted to do that through implementation of a model rocketry lab module. Building from model rocketry lesson plans for physics coursework at the K-12 level, I have designed a three week lab exercise that involves students 1) designing a mission to a solar system object to answer a geologic question, 2) constructing a model rocket from an Estes EducatorTM bulk pack kit (I use the UP Aerospace SpaceLoft 12 pack and students are strongly encouraged to modify their rocket to accommodate their mission), 3) launching their rocket and collecting related data, 4) synthesizing and evaluating their data, and 5) reporting their results in both oral and written forms. The tasks of building and launching the model rocket serve as a vehicle that allows students to employ the scientific process while learning about planetary mission design and applying geologic and quantitative skills to a ‘practical’ problem. To elaborate, students work in teams of 3-4 and must write a proposal describing their mission while staying within a prescribed budget; costs of various mission elements (e.g., manned vs. robotic) are outlined for the students prior to beginning the lab. When launching their rocket, teams also collect data that will allow them to calculate the height their rocket attained as well as its upward and downward velocities and accelerations. Students then synthesize these data to report on the success of their mission – a successful launch equals a successful mission. Geol 112 enrollment ranges between 20-25 students and total cost for conducting this exercise is ~$140 (this includes one rocket pack and one engine pack, which is enough to allow each group to have their own rocket and conduct two launches). Quantifying student learning gains and analysis of student surveys suggests that the strength of this lab module is not necessarily in acquiring new knowledge, but rather in reinforcing scientific and quantitative skills while impressing an appreciation of how planetary missions are carried out.