Student Programs


Program Type:
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My Saturn Spacecraft: Grades 4 - 5 Afterschool Activity

My Saturn Spacecraft: Grades 4 - 5 Afterschool Activity This drawing was created by Valerie, a student in Mrs. Taylor's class, 2004. Full caption


During this afterschool activity, your youth:
• Can connect with the Cassini spacecraft and the designers who built it - by thinking like engineers.
• Are presented with problems similar to those that the NASA team faced when they designed the
Cassini spacecraft to travel to Saturn.
• Brainstorm solutions and make sketches of their potential spacecraft in the first session.
Then they will share their ideas, offer each other feedback, and build
a model of their spacecraft.
• MAKE AND TAKE: A model of a spacecraft to go to Saturn, working together as a team.

Time/number of sessions: Four 40-minute sessions

Activity type: Hands-on construction

Space needed: Classroom or cafeteria, space with tables and chairs


Session 1

Print for the leader:
"Designing a Spacecraft Script" to read aloud.
Print for each student team of 3-4:
• Student handout "Design Questions (for Students)"

Sessions 1 & 2

Gather for the group's use:
• Pencils
• Paper

Session 3

• Clean recyclable junk (for example, empty cereal or pasta boxes, paper towel tubes, plastic bottles, etc.)
• Pipe cleaners
• Tape
• Paper fasteners
• String
• Paper
• Aluminum foil
• Glue

Student Activity                                                                      drawing of a star  

Session 1 • Brainstorming

1. Tell your group that they are going to be working today to design a spacecraft to go to Saturn.
Read "Designing a Spacecraft Script" aloud to the group.
2. Organize the students into teams of three or four. Ask them to spend a few minutes brainstorming a way to protect their spacecraft when it leaves Earth. Bring the group back and
ask students to share their ideas.
3. Tell your students that they will work as design teams and record their ideas. Give each
team a copy of the "Design Questions" worksheet.
4. Ask the design teams to proceed in designing their spacecraft.
5. Circulate throughout the room to assist the students as they complete their designs.

Session 2 • Revising the Plans

1. Have each team share their spacecraft designs with the larger group.
2. Encourage the large group to offer a friendly critique of the designs as they are presented.
3. Ask the teams to revisit their designs to fine tune them and incorporate their peers' suggestions
that they feel are appropriate.

Session 3 • Building the Models

1. Have the students join their original teams.
2. Ask the students if they are satisfied with their designs. If so, tell them that they are going
to build a model based on their drawings. If not, allow them time to revisit and refine their
3. Put all of the building materials out and ask the teams to think about how they can be used
to make a model of the spacecraft in their sketches.
4. Remind the students to work together as a team. Ask students to make a "materials" list for
their model and, when the group agrees on the list, take the materials back to their table.
5. Give students time to complete the model.
6. After they have completed building the model, ask them if they made changes to the design as they worked. If so, ask them to reflect those changes on their drawing.

Session 4

Presentations                                                               colorful stars

Ask each team to present their drawing and model. Ask them to:
1. Talk about their design process.
2. Show their drawing and describe it.
3. Show their model and describe how they took a 2-dimensional drawing and created a
3-dimensional structure.

Questions for the Youth

1. What kind of changes happened when you translated the 2-dimensional design into a
3-dimensional structure?
2. Did your design change as you started building? Discuss why or why not.

Sharing the Findings

Have the class share things they like about each other's work, questions they have, and suggestions for the presented designs.

Leader Reflection

Between sessions, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Are the students able to problem solve or brainstorm successfully?
2. Did everyone participate? Did everyone feel comfortable sharing their ideas?
3. Were the students able to devise creative solutions to design problems?