Kerbals Recruiting for STEM! #physicsed #physics #STEM #edtech

A couple weeks ago I had this crazy idea for a four-week project to do with my AP-C students after their AP exams.  Typically we embark on a number of individualized, small-team projects, coupled with a study of semiconductor physics.  This year, however, I wanted to change it up.  I want to build excitement for the sciences and engineering.  I want to try and truly capture the kids’ interest.  So, taking a lead from a physics teacher tweet, I began exploring the Kerbal Space Program.

I first wrote about some basic ideas around the program last week in Kerbals in Space? Gamifying the Physics of Space Exploration.  Since then, with the help and guidance of a variety of folks ranging from our school’s IT experts all the way to Kerbal Space Program enthusiasts from around the world, I think we have a pilot program (pun intended) ready to launch (pun still intended).  As we blast into this new foray, my larger goal is to explore whether something as simple as the Kerbal Space Program or other “gamified” simulation has the potential for implementation earlier in the K-12 curriculum.  If it works with seniors, could it be used with juniors?  With freshman?  With junior high students?  With 5th and 6th graders?  All with the ultimate goal of launching students into the challenge and excitement available in STEM disciplines.

We need to grab the attention of our up and coming society at an early age, and allow them to observe the need for math, science, writing, communication, and technology, and how these skills open doorways for them to engage in such fun and challenging activities.  There are tons of good programs out there promoting interest in STEM, from robotics programs to alternative fuel teams to green teams… I’m hoping the excitement of space, presented in such a fun way, allows students to reach some key conclusions on their own.  First, just playing the sim is fun.  For a while.  Then you realize no matter what you do you tend to crash into things and can’t make it to any moons or planets.  It’s time to pull out paper, pencil, calculator, and jump on the Kerbal WIKI to do some research and learn about dynamics, energy, transfer orbits, staging, etc.  In this way, the students themselves are driving their own learning with a purpose, a pull system, so to speak, as opposed to pushing information out to them and then asking them to apply what they’ve learned.

It’ll be a fun experiment.  I’ve completed the Kerbal Space Program Education Project definition page.  We’ll see how it goes from here, and if anyone wants to join us on this exploration, we’d love to have you along!

Kerbals in Space? Gamifying the Physics of Space Exploration #physics #physicsed #KSP

So, not long ago I came across a sandbox simulation software package / game called Kerbal Space Program.  It allows you to build space vehicles on the fictional planet of Kerbal, launch the vehicles, attempt to put Kerbals into orbit, help them travel to other planets, etc. etc.  Cute.  But as I looked into it a little more, it has quite a bit of scientific and educational merit.  The physics modeling is pretty good, the game is extremely addictive, and I believe it could be a great way to help students in my AP Physics C course transition from pure physics to applied physics and engineering in our last few weeks of school following the AP Exam.  So I bought the game.  Or, rather, I bought a copy, and the school bought five copies for the kids!


Right now I’m still working out the details of the project.  In general, though, I think it’d be fun to have the kids work through the simulation with a set of challenges as part of a “space race.”  Each group of 3 students will form their own space exploration team.  With safety of all Kerbals as their prime directive, they will be asked to complete a series of tasks, documenting and analyzing their work along with each design and launch, and sharing their findings with the other teams through the use of blogging.  In this manner, we’ll begin to combine technical writing, project management, and even risk management with an addictive game centered around physics principles!

  • I’m thinking their challenges may look something like:
  • Launch an unmanned rocket
  • Launch a manned rocket safety
  • Safely put a Kerbal in orbit (and bring him home)
  • Safely land a Kerbal on the Mun (and bring him home)
  • Safely land a Kerbal on a distant planet (and bring him home)
  • etc.Screenshot2

In just playing with the sim for a few minutes tonight, I managed to put a Kerbal in orbit, but them promptly left him there as I played around with an extra-vehicular activity walk… and then couldn’t bring him back in as my command pod was out of fuel.  Should be a hoot to see how the kids do, and if anyone else has played with the sim, wants to join us in our “experiment,” etc., we’d love to work with others!