EarthKAM stands for Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students. The program’s name was simply EarthKAM until 2013 when it was renamed Sally Ride EarthKAM in honor of Dr. Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, who initiated the program in 1995.
Although “middle school” is in the program’s name, you don’t have to be a middle school teacher to register. We have both elementary and high schools that participate in the missions. In fact, you don’t have to be a classroom teacher at all; educational leaders such as Boy Scout and Girl Scout leaders or informal educators at museums can use it too.
An EarthKAM mission is a period of time when the camera is active in an Earth-facing window on the ISS. Typically, there are around four missions each year. The EarthKAM online tool shows the orbital paths of the ISS on a world map. Students select locations along these orbital paths, and the camera will take pictures as the ISS flies over those points. During Mission 61 in April, SREK processed more than 16,000 images of Earth!
Incorporating SREK Lesson Plans into the Classroom
The SREK website features free standard-based lesson plans available for download and use before, during, or after the EarthKAM mission. Any teacher can use them even if the class did not participate in the mission—the students can use images from the online galleries to do the activities. Though the lesson plans are geared toward upper elementary and middle school, the lessons can be easily adapted for the appropriate grade level. The lesson plans cover multiple topics such as understanding scale distances, Earth’s rotation and orbit, and Earth’s place in the solar system, just to name a few.
Don’t be afraid to show off your creative side by creating your own lesson plan. A friend of mine is a sixth-grade teacher who uses multiple SREK missions in her class each year. She uses it for many different topics and makes cross-curricular connections. Students look at the same location during different missions to see how it changes with the seasons. If there’s a specific natural phenomenon going on, like a hurricane or a volcanic eruption, they’ll try to take images to document it and compare the EarthKAM images with other kinds of satellite images. They’ll also compare the images with weather reports. The possibilities are endless!
SREK can even be used in high school classes! A high school teacher told us about a lesson he designed where students looked at the time stamps of consecutive images, identified the locations in the images, and used that to calculate the velocity of the ISS. It makes the math interesting and meaningful!
Powerful Earth Images
The EarthKAM image galleries are a rich source of information and are organized by mission. When an image first gets posted, the only information listed is the latitude and longitude. Later, the staff of SREK add the name of the location. Some of the more visually striking images will be annotated with details added about the landmasses and other visible features. Sometimes current events such as major storms or wildfires are noted on the images as well.
The SREK Mission Operations Center is staffed year-round by University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) students and SREK advisers. Between this and the learning activities I’ve described, EarthKAM has ways to engage students in elementary school all the way through college!
The staff in the Mission Operations Center are the ones that make all the SREK magic happen. They relay the requests and retrieve the images from the ISS, organize and annotate the images, and answer teachers’ questions. Remember, SREK is not your average classroom resource—it uses a working piece of equipment onboard the ISS! The UAH students are getting real-world experience with an operational payload on the space station. Talk about some out-of-this-world experience to list on a resume!
Teachers, in general, find that EarthKAM activities bring the learning closer to home. It makes the whole planet seem a little bit smaller and brings everything a little bit closer to the students.
Sally Ride EarthKAM Mission 63 is coming up in September. Teachers, go ahead and set up your accounts now so that you will be ready to go once the mission dates are announced.
Happy Earth picture taking!