SANDY — When space shuttle Endeavour lifts off for what's slated to be its last mission next February, Canyons School District curiosity and ingenuity will go along for the ride.
Students grades 5 to 12 are working with science teachers from the school district's four high schools to develop experiments that can benefit from the microgravity effect of the low atmospheric conditions through which Endeavour will fly. In a couple of weeks, a dozen of the best ideas will be winnowed down to three by a committee of community volunteers. Those will be offered to the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) for a final selection.
Its choice is guaranteed a place in the shuttle payload along with student-designed experiments from 14 other districts nationwide. Each earned a berth in the Flight Experiment Design Competition put on by the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.
"This is exciting," said Kathy Anderson, Partnerships and Community Service director for the district. "We do a lot of simulation teaching in our classrooms and we do a lot of worksheets. But to have something like this that will have national impact — that's what school should be about. It will be worth every second to give these kids an opportunity to send something into space and have it come back, then look at the data and analyze what it did and what we thought it would do before to just take it apart and look at it after. To offer this to kids is mind-boggling."
The impetus to apply for the opportunity came from Superintendent David S. Doty, said Michelle Amiot, a curriculum specialist in the district's Evidence-Based Learning Department. It's right in line with Canyons' big push for science and math education that's relevant and interesting to students, she said. This is one "real-life application" the students are not likely to forget.
One teacher from each high school is part of a guidance committee working with students and shepherding the process locally. Younger kids who come up with ideas for an experiment funnel it through the high school into which their school feeds. The teachers — Gretchen Carr at Jordan High, Jenette Stewart at Alta, Alex Hildebrand at Brighton and Jonathan Miller at Hillcrest — will guide and mentor the students, but the experiments must come from the students.
Other mentors are involved, as well, including from the University of Utah's engineering, science, physics and astronomy faculties, as well as from Utah State University and the University of Idaho, Amiot said.
Once the space-bound experiment is selected, Canyons students will assemble the ingredients and ship it to the NCESSE program for its most-unusual ride.