Using the International Space Station for a Simple Space Science Experiment
This article is about the Tomatosphere, a project and a website where teachers of grades 1 - 11 can register classes to perform a simple science experiment to assist astronauts with space missions. The students are mailed 2 packages of tomato seeds to grow to compare germination rates. One package of seeds have been exposed to conditions in the International Space Station. Tomatosphere is part of the curriculum of the United States, Canada and internationally. This project reaches more than 11,000 classrooms at grades 2 to 8. The purpose of this project is to educate and inspire students to space exploration, leading to exploration of Mars.
The website, at: http://www.tomatosphere.org/ provides many teacher resources such as the purpose of the project, the curriculum focus for grades 2-11, videos about Mars, the International Space Station, tomatoes in space and agriculture in space.
Excellent student resources, FAQs and Registration sections are included. The registered classroom teachers are mailed sets of 2 seed packages for their students to perform the growth experiments.
There are also free DVD’s, entitled "Careers in Planetary Exploration; A Universe of Possibilites", from the Canadian Space Agency mailed to the teachers to help teach about careers in space. Videos, audio resources, links to project leaders, sponsoring agencies and science websites are provided.
Tomatosphere Project Resources
On the tomatoesphere website, you’ll find a link to excellent student resources. These include links to:
- information about astronauts from the Canadian Space Agency and NASA
- a multimedia production about Destination Mars
- a site on Mars for Kids
- student activities from the University of Arizona and the Space Science Institute
- online resources from Heinz seeds for fun activities for kids
By sending the students registered with the project 2 packages of tomato seeds to grow, the students learn many things. They will determine germination rates of the seeds. Their findings will help answer the question of how space exploration missions are supplied with life support requirements - food, water, oxygen. They will study and discover why there is the need to consume carbon dioxide exhaled by the members of the crew. They will learn the basics of performing the science experiment process such as listing materials, recording observations and composing a conclusion. They will learn about plant parts, growth stages and plant requirements.
The results of the experiments are submitted online easily by the teachers. Basically the germination rates of 2 packages of tomato seeds are submitted as well as the number of seeds planted and days from the first seeds to germinate and the last seeds to germinate. Since one package of seeds is the control group, the students do not find out which one is the control group until the experiment is completed and results are submitted. The information is updated regularly. The teachers have a 3 month time period in which to perform the experiment. Students can record observations in chart form, journal form or graph form. Students can record germination rates only, measurements of plant growth, flowers counts, and weight measurements. Students can design further experiments.
Tomatosphere Project Resources
Additional experiments are suggested for older grades. Teachers and students can find a page of frequently asked questions and responses about the experiments.
The Teacher resources section provides these lessons for grades 2 – 4
Tomatosphere – the principal investigation
All about tomatoes – information about our favorite vegetable or fruit?
Soil – Growing tomatoes on Mars
Energy from the Sun – Green plants as primary food producers
Curriculum Expectations – Plant growth, soils, habitats and communities
Students with Special Needs – Accomodations and strategies for students with special needs
Assessment Rubrics – Understanding of basic concepts, inquiry, communication of required knowledge and application
Glossary and Student Activities – Word scramble and crossword puzzle.
Tomatosphere Project Resources
On the teacher resources page, there is an excellent link called Tips and Tricks. Here is where you’ll find transparency masters for keeping journals or germination charts that are downloadable. Suggestions for measurements that senior grades could take include: plant height, number of mature fruit per plant, number of flowers per plant, average mass of fruit per plant. This page includes links to: conducting the Tomatosphere experiment, germination, a letter home to parents, transplanting, hints from colleagues, and terminology. The link to this page is: Tips-n-Tricks.
So that classroom teachers who do not have access to a computer lab will not feel intimidated by this project; computer teachers or library teachers who can familiarize the students and teachers with all the available online resources will find it easy to navigate the entire website for all the accessible and thorough resources.
Teachers can use the link to the Media room to explain the project and find history on this project which began in 2001. Here the teachers can introduce the project leaders or have the students research the profiles of the astronauts involved. Research on astronauts and recent missions could be done here as information is provided for this as well. Images of the project are also presented here. Images of tomato seeds in space are provided. Links to TV and radio broadcasts are also given here.
A lesson on Missions to Mars could be carried out separate from doing tomatosphere experiments. The Mars Space Missions link has information on mission objectives and names from 1960 to 2009. By using this direct link, at: Mars Missions
a teacher could create a scavenger hunt on past missions for students to discover. A teacher could also have the students examine one mission and create a powerpoint presentation, webpage or report on the mission.
Long Term Project Results:
Teachers submit the results of the simple science experiment to the Tomatosphere website. Once experiments from all classrooms are submitted, the results for the present year's project are given for teachers and students to analyze. Teachers who registered in the previous year are automatically registered for this 3 year project. Classrooms can opt out of the project each year or can be pre-registered for the next year. This helps to engage the students in experiments where they can see results that affect future space exploration.
When students in a primary grade perform the experiments again, another year, they may realize the importance of the experiments to the scientists. They may come to view the long term preparation needed for space missions and space exploration. The involvement of classrooms in meaningful science experiments enables students to feel a part of valuable scientific and space research. They can learn a direct use of the International Space Station.