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Parachuting Onto Mars
With Kevin Hartman, IDE teacher

During the third quarter of this school year, Iditarod Elementary School was fortunate to participate in the 21St Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) 2017 NASA STEM engineering challenge. Mat-Su Borough School District student teams from Wasilla Middle School and Iditarod Elementary School participated in the nine-week Parachuting Onto Mars challenge. The objective? The NASA education website said, “Students will use the engineering design process to develop a landing system that creates the most drag to safely land a spacecraft dropped form a great height.” To guide the development, NASA indicated that students design and test a drag device to slow a spacecraft and protect its cargo. Additionally, students calculate the surface area and measure the mass of the spacecraft.
Kevin Hartman was Iditarod’s teacher who led the two teams throughout the process. He said, “I was given the chance to guide 10 students (two teams of five) through the engineering challenge process. As the instructor during these weekly hour-long class sessions, my main duty was to guide and document the students from the introduction of the problem all the way through to the final test of their very own prototype.” The classes involved research, design, and development of a device prototype, followed by extensive testing and redesign.

Teachers were encouraged to follow a process, which included, motivate, ask, imagine, and plan. The process formulated sequential thinking for students and helped them plan their work to achieve a desired result. “Although a majority of the time was spent on the engineering challenge,” said Mr. Hartman, “we did have some teamwork sessions as well.” Students came up with a team name, motto, and a mission patch. “We were extremely fortunate”, he said, “that a local business volunteered their time and materials, and embroidered the patches for all of the students.” Thanks to Last Frontier Embroidery, students wore the mission patches with a lot of pride. “As an extra bit of motivation, we even had an hour long video chat with our very own NASA engineer during which he and the students conversed about the Parachuting onto Mars problem.”
At Wasilla Middle School, Burchell High School teachers, Barbara Bodnar and Joel Moorman, worked with these student teams as part of the CLCC after-school grant program.
For a first-hand look at the Iditarod Elementary School teams, go to:


You may also read, “Iditarod Elementary takes part in NASA program,” from the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman.


IDE.WMS NASA Challenge
Scott Nelson is Iditarod Elementary School principal, and Casey Hull, Wasilla Middle School principal; Jason Moore is AP at Wasilla Middle School.