Speaking in Phases

Contributor
National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Diane Fisher
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Model , Activity
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

Students model how NASA uses radios waves signals to encode, transmit and decode information using a metronome and musical instruments.  Students are then challenged to design a faster way to send signals.

Intended Audience

Educator
Educational Level
  • Grade 4
  • Upper Elementary
  • Middle School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

4-PS4-3 Generate and compare multiple solutions that use patterns to transfer information.

Clarification Statement: Examples of solutions could include drums sending coded information through sound waves, using a grid of 1’s and 0’s representing black and white to send information about a picture, and using Morse code to send text.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The focus of this activity is on developing students’ understanding of how spacecraft communication works using sound waves as a model. It is recommended that students be engaged in sound wave investigations aligned with Performance Expectation 4-PS4-1 before engaging in this lesson. Students will need to understand the communication system referenced in the resources materials before they can generate solutions for optimizing it. The follow-up discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of this method of communication is key to generating solutions by the students.

3-5-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The Extension section of this resource recommends that students come up with ideas about how to optimize the signal speed. However, students might also engage in optimization by creating a new pattern of communication to represent letters and numbers or come up with their own ideas. By enabling students to optimize the communication system across the classroom they will better meet 4-PS4-3. Identification of criteria and constraints would need to be established in order to compare the effectiveness of the solutions generated by the students.

3-5-ETS1-3 Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The criteria and constraints established during the optimization process will enable student to plan and carry out fair tests. Students will need to conduct replicable trials of their communication system in order to determine its effectiveness and produce enough data to identify failure points.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
As included in the tips for 3-5-ETS1-3, students would need to establish criteria and constraints as part of the optimization process. The different solutions generated by the students could then be compared based on the criteria established.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The beauty of this resource is that it enables students to understand how radio signals are actually used to send information between spacecraft and Earth across the solar system. For more information about how radio signals are transmitted, it is recommended that the students access the Deep Space Network and Space Place resources linked in the Explore More! Section of this resource. Also consider accessing this resource for an example of how data sets and images are created from these signals: http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/07/17/new-horizons-data-transmission/.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Following the procedure for learning how we communicate with spacecraft, students will discuss the difficulties they experienced with transmitting and receiving information through this system. They will then share their ideas for optimizing the process, which might include how to speed up the transmission, creating a new pattern to represent 1 and 0, or creating a new pattern to represent each letter and number. A discussion should also ensue once they have tested their ideas. This discussion might take the form of having each student team making a claim about the effectiveness of their communication system, with the data gathered from the testing of their solutions used as evidence to support their claim.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students will learn to communicate through a series of drum beats representing a binary system of 1s and 0s which is a pattern, but needs to be explicitly stated as such. Once the students test their solutions for optimizing this form of communication, they should be compared in terms of the similarities and differences in the patterns used to communicate information.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Through this activity students will learn how the pattern of signals NASA uses to communicate with spacecraft are transmitted and decoded. They will then extend their learning to optimize this system of communication. It enables students to understand the Disciplinary Core Idea that digitized information can be transmitted over a distance, and engage them in the Practice as well as meet the Performance Expectation of generating and comparing multiple solutions. It also enables students apply the Crosscutting Concept of patterns to transfer information and compare similarities and differences in the patterns used to communicate information. Using the tips provided, elements of all three dimensions are present in this activity and enables students to make sense of phenomena and design solutions.

  • Instructional Supports: It is recommended that students be engaged in investigations that develop student understanding of Performance Expectation 4-PS4-1 and sound waves before engaging in this lesson. NASAs’ communication with its spacecraft provides a real world context for engaging in science and engineering and provides a purpose for learning. The lesson discussions and extensions provides opportunities for students to express, justify and represent their ideas. Once the students have tested their ideas, the discussion might take form of having the students make a claim about the effectiveness of their communication system, with data gathered from the testing of their solutions used as evidence to support their claim. Conducted in this manner, it allows for an exchange of feedback and response between the presenting team and the rest of the class. A significant section of this resource is devoted to providing background information on wave properties and opens the door for integrating 4-PS4-1 in terms of understanding the patterns in amplitude and wavelength. Differentiation of instruction is not addressed in this activity. The timing/sequencing of drum beats might be challenging for students struggling with motor coordination and the speed of the metronome may have to be reduced further. Or, a less complex system of communication may need be considered. For students with high interest or who are exceeding the Performance Expectations, participation in the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) Program is suggested. This program enables students take control of a 34-meter decommissioned NASA radio antenna located at the Goldstone, California Deep Space Network site, collect radio-transmitted data, and work in collaboration with professional radio astronomers to analyze the data. Finally, note that this resource can also be accessed at: spaceplace.nasa.gov/review/classroom.../dsn_signal_mod_web.pdf The resource at this site provides some additional information that teachers may find useful.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: As this is a performance-driven activity, it elicits direct, observable evidence of three-dimensional learning. Suggestions for formative assessment provided by this resource include informally assessing students after a set of four beats to determine who is hearing the patterns correctly, checking their recording sheets and analyzing the type of errors they are making, and timing students to see how long it takes to decode a single letter or short word. Performance in this regard should improve with practice. The optimization of their communication system could be structured as a performance task and summatively evaluated against the criteria established by the class.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Although this resource does not include a technologically interactive component, the potential for its integration is there.