K-12 Outreach to the Community: Tigernaut-style

    The Tigernauts conducted an outreach activity with Boy Scout Troop 360 at Encino Park Elementary School on October 6, 2003. The audience consisted of 25 boys, aged 11 to 13 years. The Tigernauts created the activity to teach the audience basic facts about Mars and about the application of robotics in space exploration and research.

            Since the audience consisted of boys in the 6th and 7th grades, the activity was structured to capture the audience’s attention and reach them in the best possible manner. Children in this age range work best in smaller groups[1]. Additionally, they are easily bored, and are eager to get moving. Furthermore, they have a vulnerable ego. Using these characteristics, the Tigernauts designed an activity that would not leave the boys bored or disinterested, and would engage them in a friendly, competitive manner.

    The beginning of the activity consisted of two team members introducing the group and defining engineering in general. The team explained what people with degrees in engineering could do in their profession.  Also, the team described the Red Rover design project. Then, the team segued into the topic of space exploration and research.

    At this point, the entire group watched a video on robotics in space exploration created by NASA Johnson Space Center, entitled Robonaut.  The video described the purpose of Robonaut, a human-like robot, and gave many examples of the applications Robonaut could have in outer space. Also, it explained how Robonaut moves, and how a person on Earth could control Robonaut’s movements in outer space to aid in the repair of space stations or in the exploration of far-away planets, such as Mars. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the six-minute video, and asked several questions about Robonaut and space exploration after the conclusion of the video.

            Next, the Tigernauts divided the audience up into three groups. Each group was a “patrol” in the Scout troop. The Tigernauts explained that they were going to talk about basic Mars facts. But so as not to bore the audience, the team mentioned that there would be a competition later on, and that each group could win points by answering questions correctly about Mars.  Then, the Tigernauts went on to speak about basic Mars facts (such as length of the Martian day, the atmosphere, the seasons, surface temperatures, etc.) and their impact on the way astronauts will explore Mars. Next, there was a competitive question-and-answer session, during which all three groups answered all questions (including one bonus question) correctly, and amassed many “space-points” for their groups.  

By this point, the audience was getting restless, and they were appropriately energetic at the idea of winning more “space-points” so as to beat the competing groups. So, the Tigernauts introduced the last activity of the evening: a relay race on Mars. The relay race was based on the following premise: each group was a team of astronauts exploring Mars. They had to go out and collect rock samples to bring back to the base station, but they couldn’t touch the rock samples (which were really water balloons) as a safety precaution, so they had to be carried (precariously) on a long handled spoon.

 The catch was that each team of astronauts only had one pressurized suit that they had to share amongst the group; so only one astronaut could go out and collect a rock sample at a time. Also, NASA had budget problems and had to cut corners on the construction of the pressurized suits—so they had no “eye-holes”, and the astronaut wearing the suit was essentially blinded. He had to be guided by the shouts of his fellow astronauts. Therefore, the relay race involved all three teams lined up on the Mars surface (the parking lot of Encino Park Elem.), with only one person per team wearing a pressurized suit (a bed sheet, draped over their head, making it impossible to see).

One astronaut ventured out at time, following the instructions his teammates shouted in order to find the rock sample (which were being handed out at various locations by Tigernaut team members). Every astronaut ventured out once, and for every rock sample the team brought back in tact, they received space points. No points were awarded for “burst” rock samples.

At the end of the mission, the team with the most “space-points” was awarded the honor of being allowed to attack the other teams with their supply of rock samples. This was a huge hit amongst the Boy Scouts, and was an excellent end to the activity.


[1] Sharing Science with Children: A Survival Guide for Scientists and Engineers. North Carolina  Museum of Art and Life Science, 2003. <http://www.nas.edu/rise/roles1a.htm>