Department of Curriculum and Instruction
University of Illinois
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Other: electronic mail messages
This story was collected as part of the “Teaching Teleapprenticeships” research project at the University of Illinois, sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
Michael Waugh, Raoul Cervantes, and Jim Levin would like to relate a story that we consider an example of how the network can provide resources for talented students who need assistance and aren’t getting it any other way. This is a learning experience which deals with Newton’s Laws of Motion although this is never stated and the experience is motivated by the student’s own curiosity and questioning.
This episode emerged during a project activity called the Zero-g World Design project which was conducted last year (this specific project was conducted as part of an NSF grant awarded to Levin and Waugh). Raoul Cervantes analyzed this project in great detail and this is one of the episodes that he recorded during his dissertation study.
This story will consist of some overview details and then a couple of email messages — one from Pablo (a pseudonym) and then three others from adults on the network. After this, we will include a brief transcript of Pablo’s response to another teacher at his school about what he learned during this episode of the project activity. The question was asked of Pablo during the course of a class discussion and Pablo’s response was very much unrehearsed and spontaneous.
Pablo is a male about ten years old in fifth grade in one of our local elementary schools in Champaign, Illinois. His ethnic background is Brazilian, but he has lived in the U.S. for several years. He is considered to be one of the brightest students in his class. He is exactly the kind of student that often suffers from a lack of information resources to feed his curiosity and the kind of individual attention (from his school) that would enable him to maximize his potential.
Early in December, Pablo came to class and asked a question concerning the flight of a tennis ball in zero-g. He and his group were trying to develop a tennis-like game to be played in zero-g and he felt that he needed to know more about how the ball would behave before they could do much more.
His teacher felt that the network might be able to help with this issue and so together they sent a message on the FrEdMail network.
Msg.5108 To: $ZEROG From: YVITOSKY Sent: 01/13/92 9:49 PM Subj: question Pablo, at King, has a question. Will a tennis ball in zero-g go faster or slower than on earth? Can someone help us?
This project was linked across two networks–FrEdmail and the Internet. As it happened, Pablo received three answers to this question from individuals on the Internet. One individual was a NASA engineer, another was a postdoctoral research physicist and the third was an education professor at the University of Illinois.
The first response was from the engineer.
Msg.5117 To: YVITOSKY From: ENGINEER@AURORA.ARC.NASA.GOV Path: ENGINEER@AURORA.ARC.NASA.GOV Sent: 01/14/92 12:04 PM Rcvd: 01/14/92 12:06 PM Subj: question (Internet Message) ---- To: email@example.com From: ENGINEER@aurora.arc.nasa.gov (ENGINEER) ---- Neither! F = ma both on Earth and in space. Assuming that atmospheric pressure in a space station is the same as on Earth, and that "wind resistance" is equal, the tennis ball will go only as fast as the force imposed on it will allow. The mass of the tennis ball is the same in both environments, i.e., v = Fxtxt/m.
The second response was from the physicist.
Msg.5116 To: SYSOP From: POSTDOC@UIMRL7.MRL.UIUC.EDU Path: POSTDOC@UIMRL7.MRL.UIUC.EDU Sent: 01/14/92 12:04 PM Rcvd: 01/14/92 12:06 PM Subj: question (Internet Message) To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: POSTDOC@uimrl7.mrl.uiuc.edu Response to Pablo's question: Pablo, at King, has a question. Will a tennis ball in zero-g go faster or slower than on earth? Can someone help us? If you could throw the ball as hard as on earth it would go the same velocity if the air pressure in the space station were the same. The space shuttle has the same air pressure as on earth so the ball will travel at the same velocity in it. However, the Apollo space craft had an air pressure at about 1/3 that of on earth, so if the ball could travel very far (which it couldn't because the space craft was so small) it would slow down much slower. You should know that from a floating position it would be hard to throw the ball hard because your body would be free to move backwards.
The third response was from the Education professor.
Msg.5124 To: $ZEROG From: $ZEROG Path: MWAUGH@UIUC.EDU Sent: 01/15/92 12:03 PM Rcvd: 01/15/92 12:05 PM Subj: Pablo's question (Internet Message) To: $email@example.com From: Michael Waugh <firstname.lastname@example.org> Reply to Yvonne's class at King... Pablo, The ball (or any object) will travel at a certain speed depending on the force applied to it regardless of where the force is applied (either to a ball in space or on earth). In either place, the same laws of physics apply. However, on earth, we have other forces like gravity and air resistance that tend to act on the ball against the force you apply and so these forces would slow the ball down just as soon as you have released it (stopped applying the force). In space, there is no atmosphere or air to slow the ball down and the gravitational force would probably be weak (depending on what is near the ball when it is struck), so these counter-forces wouldn't be the same as the ones which would apply on earth. So, while the ball would not necessarily travel any faster in space, it would hold on to the speed it had much longer than a ball on earth. In other words, it wouldn't slow down as fast. If we were to see pictures of these two ball throws, it might look like the one is space was faster (why? is it that it would seem to go farther? or maybe move more quickly against objects around it which are still? What do you think?), but in reality it is just that the speed of the earth-thrown ball would drop off more quickly. They would both have the same speed to start with, but the earth-ball would not hold that speed very long at all and would start to slow down rapidly. Does this help? This is a good question. What other questions do you have? Michael Waugh
Although Pablo first mentioned this question on Dec. 5th, he was not able to send it out on the network until Jan. 13th. The responses were almost immediate (Jan. 14 & 15), but Pablo was not able to read them until January 23rd (nearly two months after he asked his question). At this time, he was helped to log on to the FrEdmail network and was allowed to read through the responses on his own. After he read through the messages he was asked by Raoul if he understood the messages. He acknowledged that he did and at that time he gave Raoul a brief, one- sentence summary.
In the middle of February (after another month had passed), Pablo’s class conducted group presentations regarding their designs for the zero-g project. His class was visited by another teacher and class of students who wanted to learn more about the project. One group was presenting their design for a basketball-like game to be played in zero-g and a discussion evolved about how the ball might travel and “fall” through the hoop. At this point, Pablo’s teacher asked Pablo if he would be willing to summarize for the group the network responses he got to his question about the flight of a ball in space. This situation was recorded by Raoul and the transcript of the episode is included below.
Teacher: This might be a good time for Pablo to tell the class about the question he asked on the network about the tennis ball. Pablo, would you like to share that with the class?
Pablo: The original question that I asked, was would a ball go faster, or slower in space than on the earth. And I asked this because I thought, about the game that we were making, which was at that time roller tennis, it would be better to hit the ball slower, and I got responses from three people, over the network, two from the University of Illinois and one from NASA. They all had the same answer, and they said, it went just as fast, because there is resistance, like air particles, and other things in the air, on the earth and in space it would be the same, and that would cause it to go at the same speed. But here on earth, there’s gravity, and that would make the ball, pull the ball down, and make it go slower, well, in space, the ball will go just as fast, except that it will slow down slower, cause there’s no gravity, to pull it down, or no force to make it stop.
Teacher: And tell us about your ability to throw the ball.
Pablo: On earth, the gravity pulls you down, and gives you a stableness, so you can throw the ball with force, like pitching a baseball. But in zero gravity, when you threw the ball, you yourself, would go backwards, and unless you had velcro or magnets, because the force that you applied on the ball, with your arm, you’re going to be going backwards, when you are throwing. So, if it was possible to throw the ball, in zero-g, without the stableness of magnets or velcro, the ball would go just as fast, in space as on earth.
Although it is clear that there are some “rough edges” on his understanding of this phenomenon, it should also be clear that he has a remarkable grasp of this concept for a ten year old child, especially given the rather minimal level of “instruction” given by the three respondents. Although each of the three responses were different in the manner in which they attempted to explain the phenomenon, Pablo was able to link them: “They all had the same answer…” and his articulation of this is considerably better than that which could be supplied by many high school students. Pablo has shown an intuitive understanding of Newton’s Laws of Motion. And, although this experience is not sufficient as an academic treatment of this subject it has probably provided Pablo with the kinds of cognitive “anchors” that will allow him to more quickly and more thoroughly grasp a more formal treatment of this topic in years to come.
Clearly, the electronic network is not WHY this learning occurred. Many factors contributed to it. However, the network was an absolutely critical link in enabling this to happen. Pablo was motivated to learn, he asked a good question and the network provided several timely (i.e., in fifth grade–when he wanted to know–rather than waiting until high school) and reasonably concise replies which collectively conveyed a sensible response to his query (It isn’t at all clear that a single one of the replies would have been sufficient, but the set of replies seem to have addressed Pablo’s needs…for the moment).
Good learners are good question askers…and good question askers need good answers and opportunities to master the process of seeking out those answers, validating them and constructing understanding. A powerful electronic network peopled by millions of intelligent resources can enable those with questions and few authoritative information resources in their immediate environment to find the answers they need. If we cannot provide these kinds of opportunities for our learners (of all ages) then we will find that they do not excel at formulating creative questions and critically evaluating information, and thus their learning will be fragmentary and incomplete.