Kids educated by satellite

By Holli Gunnell
The Herald Journal
May 11, 2002

PROVIDENCE — Armed with Global Position System units, or GPS, Spring Creek Middle School sixth-graders were guided by satellite to hidden objects on their playground Thursday morning. "It's cool that we're touching the outer world," said Justin McMurdie, looking on as a fellow classmate led the way.

The treasure hunt, along with a video presentation and an explanation of how GPS works, was part of Utah's second annual Space Week. The program, which began last year, is funded in part by NASA and implemented locally by the Space Dynamics Laboratory and The Rocky Mountain NASA Space Grant Consortium at Utah State University.

According to John Vanderford, outreach director for the Rocky Mountain NASA Space Grant Consortium, the purpose of Utah Space Week is to make students more aware of science and technology.

"We want to make science more exciting and less intimidating," said Vanderford. "Kids get turned off by science when they think it is too hard."

Gayle Bowen, project manager of the Space Dynamics Lab outreach office, said showing students that GPS, which receives signals from satellites to pinpoint an accurate location using longitude and latitude, can be incorporated into everyday life. The presentation also demonstrated how GPS is being used in rental cars and airplanes as well as in military and space programs.

"We're showing them it is used in real world activities," said Bowen. "Anybody can handle one of these."

Students took turns guiding the groups with the GPS units, matching up coordinates with the location of the hidden object. Most of the students said they had heard of GPS before the presentation, but weren't sure what it was until the presentation.

"It opens their eyes," said sixth-grade teacher JoLynn Blotter. "It has helped them realize there are satellites and technology they can use that they wouldn't have known about."

Trina Paskett, public relations specialist for the Space Dynamics Lab, said the best part of Space Week is seeing the children get excited about space.

"They might remember this later, and decide to become an engineer or an astronaut," she said.

NASA has made Utah Space Week an official part of the U.S. space program. The number of Utah classrooms participating has nearly doubled since last year, reaching 1,000 students in 47 schools all over the state.