On June 17 students from Galveston Independent School District’s R4 program visited Rice University. The students are participating in an intensive four-week camp that takes them beyond the classroom to experience real-world mathematics and science through project-based learning.

The program R4: Relations Robots Rockets and Roller Coasters is an exciting summer camp designed for students in grades six through 12 to explore physics chemistry and mathematics. It is the result of a partnership between Galveston school district and the Rice University School Mathematics Project.

As part of R4 students read “October Sky” by Homer H. Hickam Jr. set in 1957 at the beginning of the space race between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Students visited Brockman Hall for Physics the newest building on the Rice University campus which was dedicated March 24. They had the opportunity to meet world-renowned space scientist Professor Patricia Reiff of the Rice University Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Rice Space Institute.

Professor Reiff made a presentation to the group of students and their teachers on “Here Comes the Sun Space Weather.” She explained space weather and that our seasons are related to the tilt of the Earth’s axis and not to the Earth’s distance from the sun.

During her presentation Professor Reiff showed pictures of sunspots and said Galileo discovered the first sunspot. Students were able to view sunspots through telescopes on the rooftop of Brockman Hall and see the university’s observatory.

Students also watched “The New Force Five” a full-dome animated show in the university’s portable planetarium which showed the effects of Force Five tornadoes hurricanes and solar flares.

As the students viewed the show they were amazed at the fact that the United States averages 1200 tornadoes per year and saw the destruction of two major hurricanes that targeted their own hometown Galveston Island the 1900 Storm which made landfall on Sept. 8 1900 and killed more than 8000 people and Hurricane Ike which hit Galveston on Sept. 13 2008.

At the conclusion of the program Professor Reiff gave students CDs titled “Ice Worlds and Space Weather” and gave their teachers these CDs in addition to two others “Earth Updates” and “Space Updates.” The students left the Rice campus with a newfound appreciation for mathematics and science outside of the classroom a glimpse of the science behind “October Sky” and thrilled at the opportunity to meet and talk with a real space scientist.

Assisting Professor Reiff were Judy Dye Umbe Cant and two graduate students William Langley and Wayne Weichen all from the department of physics and astronomy.

RUSMP’s director of secondary programs Susan Troutman who arranged the visit noted that the students’ visit to the Rice campus gave them a firsthand opportunity to connect what they were studying to the research of practicing scientists thus validating their classroom work.

After their visit to Rice the Galveston students traveled to the Houston Museum of Natural Science for another astronomy-related planetarium show “2012: Mayan Prophecies.”

Anne Papakonstantinou is the director of the Rice University School Mathematics Project.

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