Product Review of NASA’s Space Place
NASA’s Space Place is an education and public outreach project for elementary school-age kids. A joint effort from NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the California Institute of Technology, and the International Technology and Engineering Education Association, this interactive collection of information boasts a whole lot of brain power behind it. The site features lively descriptions of different concepts that relate to five general topics: the sun, Earth, solar system, space, and people and technology. Each activity and item is clearly marked as something kids can explore, do, or play.
• “Wild Weather Adventure” — Race other blimps by answering climate-related questions to advance around the world.
• “Explore the Solar System!” — Complete missions involving planets on an interactive map by defeating gravity and avoiding planetary rings and other obstacles.
• “Black Hole Rescue!” — Capture words, one letter at a time, before they’re pulled in by a black hole’s gravity.
Kids will likely have fun checking out the site on their own, but it also contains materials geared toward educators. Many of the hands-on experiments would work well in a group or classroom setting for third- to eight-grade learners. A page of classroom activities provides about 50 project ideas; each includes a subject area label, making it easy for teachers to scan for relevant examples of scientific principles they’re covering in class. Likewise, a Parents & Educators tab features a selection of more than 45 activities, which also appear in other sections on the site –- ranging from an Earth image gallery to firsthand space mission stories and math-related problems that involve distance and modeling, fraction use, and decimals.
Classroom activities, iPhone and iPad apps, information about an astronomy club partnering program, and other items are also included in a separate section for parents and teachers.
The games, which illustrate principles such as how a black hole works, are interesting and informative. Younger kids may be a little confused by the sometimes lengthy directions, but there are enough galaxy-related craft ideas, images of the sun, and other items on NASA’s Space Place to keep kids occupied, even if they aren’t strong readers yet.
Many games do a great job of reinforcing the scientific concepts kids learn about on the site. For example, one encourages players to pilot a weather research blimp by answering science-related questions. To further spark kids’ interest in space, the site also features activities such as online coloring pages and crossword puzzles.
Overall User Consensus About the App
Games are more complex and interesting than those found on many sites for young kids, and activities come with detailed background information on the solar system and other science-related topics.
Curriculum and Instruction
The well-organized site is packed with scientific info presented in a unique format, such as audio responses to questions. The only big drawback: Users don’t get much individual feedback on games and activities.
Kids can find creative at-home experiment instructions. A parents and educators section offers classroom activities and printable posters.