Learner-Shaped Technology

August 2, 2008

Mars Phoenix converts a Twitter skeptic

Filed under: mars,science,technology,twitter — Mike W @ 9:32 am

I’ve been very skeptical about educational uses of Twitter, but I have to admit that a little lander on Mars has changed my mind. This fall I’m teaching a course for non-science majors that centers around exploring the physics, chemistry, and geology surrounding a manned space mission to Mars. When I found out the Mars Phoenix Lander was providing mission updates via Twitter, I decided to take the plunge.

The lander (through a ghost writer) sends out tweets, sometimes several times a day, with mission updates which I follow through Twitterific (screen shot below).

Twitter Mars

One of the objectives for the course is for students to get a real sense of the scale, terrain, and environment of Mars. That’s not something that gets accomplished through a single lesson. Having the students subscribe via Twitterific or text message updates (I haven’t sprung for the extra $ to get into that) seems like a great, subversive way, to weave Mars into the daily lives of students. Phoenix “tweets” have often led me on a curious quest for more info, and I’m hoping it will do the same for students.

I was psyched to learn that the mission had been extended (through a tweet, of course) to the end of September, so I can use this for at least part of the upcoming semester. Here’s just one example (of many) of a great pointer from Phoenix, which can be used to address common misconceptions about the cause of the seasons.

Mars midnight sun

Clipped from JPL site.  See http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/phoenix/images.php?fileID=15091 for full story.

Oh yeah, here’s a link to the famous Private Universe video showing interviews with Harvard grads that demonstrates just how tenacious this misconception can be.

If Twitter can help, I’m in!

Link to Mars Phoenix tweets / twitter page 

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