Educator Features

Reading, Writing & Rings!
A labeled drawing of Saturn with writing below it that says Saturn is the planet with the most rings. Saturn has 30 moons. Nine Earths could fit across its diameter.
Two R's -- reading and 'riting -- get some help from the next letter of the alphabet in a learning resource that uses Saturn as a launching point for language arts activities. "Reading, Writing & Rings!" is a set of lessons for grades 1-4 that enhance basic communication skills through scientific exploration and the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, a cooperative effort between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

Image to right: Students draw and write about Saturn in "Reading, Writing & Rings!" Credit: NASA

Lessons are available online and are broken down into two sets, one for grades 1-2 and the other for grades 3-4. The content, developed by educational experts in cooperation with NASA scientists, is aligned with national science and language education standards.

Activities for grades 1-2 begin with an exercise in which students draw and write what they already know about Saturn. Then they discover where in the solar system Saturn and Earth are located, and how the two planets differ in size and other characteristics. Later, students learn about the Cassini spacecraft, construct their own model spacecraft designed for a trip to Saturn, and explore the planet's rings, moons and other unique features.

The content for grades 3-4 addresses many of the topics covered in the lessons for younger students, but also reviews the history of Saturn research, provides an overview of the Huygens landing probe, and challenges students to design and test their own parachuting probe.

Throughout the lessons, students practice a variety of language arts skills, including descriptive writing, note-taking, poetry, illustration and oral communication. According to several classroom teachers, pre- and post-assessments show that students not only learn to express themselves more articulately, but also develop a more detailed understanding of Saturn and space exploration.

"The reading and writing activities reinforce and clarify the science learning, and the science content provides a context of high interest and motivation for students to learn, use and refine reading and writing skills," said Linda Block, a fifth-grade science teacher in Castro Valley, Calif.

"Reading, Writing & Rings!" was developed in partnership by the Cassini-Huygens education and public outreach program; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory education office; the Bay Area Writing Project (an affiliate of the California Writing Project); Project FIRST at the University of California, Berkeley; the Caltech Precollege Science Initiative; and selected classroom educators.

Cassini-Huygen's Education K-4 Program Web site
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Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies