by Art Hammon, Ph.D.Art Hammon develops NASA/JPL space-related, science and math education resources. Before working at JPL, Art was a middle- and high-school science teacher for 25 years in New Hampshire.
One of my favorite resources is a video game that demonstrates how JPL engineers use electric charges to propel NASA spacecraft around the solar system. The online game is called the Ion Engine Simulation
. Students can do the activity at school or at home and teachers can use it as a teaching resource in their classrooms.
The goal of the activity is for students to get a better understanding of how electrically charged particles interact with each other and how spacecraft engineers make use of this principle. A set of teacher/student guides on the site may be used after the students have explored the activity to teach principles of science and mathematics. Game Play:
To get started, the site first offers a tutorial (also in the form of a game) that conveys the strength and behavior of charged particles. In another activity, students use their mouse to place virtual electric charges on a screen and push another charge through a maze. A third activity is designed as a soccer game between the student and the computer. Players have positive or negative (+ or –) charges on their helmets to guide the charge into a goal. The final activity is to design an ion engine, set charges and plate distances and then measure the force of acceleration. Student Ability Level:
This activity works with a wide age range -- students in grades 3 through 12. Students can get the family involved by showing parents and siblings the Web site. Classroom Tips:
-- Allow students to explore the Web site before introducing the student/teacher guides. The discussion will be enhanced by the video simulations and individual student involvement.
-- The "Charge Simulator" section has 10 challenges. Have a contest to see which student can make it to number 10 (they become more complicated and difficult as you go up a level).
To play the Ion Engine game or download the student and teacher guides, go to http://www.dawn-mission.org/mission/ion_engine_interactive/index.html