Dave Mitchell talks about the ancient Greeks and how they named the constellations as he sits beneath an inflatable SkyDome planetarium at Smith Middle School on Monday. (photo by Rodney Curtis/School Life Troy)
Normally in a middle school gym, you don’t find kids sitting around — lying around, even — in the dark. But Smith Knight seventh graders weren’t in gym class on Monday; it was a full-on science day for them.
“This is a way of presenting the information that they can’t get in the classroom,” said seventh-grade science teacher Terri McCormick.
A portable, inflatable SkyDome planetarium popped up, courtesy of Mobile Ed Productions out of Redford. It looked as though something from out of this world had just signed up for gym class, PE for ET.
Most everything being shown underneath the dome was, in fact, out of this world.
“I thought it was a pretty good presentation and I learned a lot about space,” said Nathan Hachigian. “I liked learning about how Jupiter’s storm was bigger than our whole planet.”
Each hour throughout the day, seventh grade classes ducked into the dome and heard about the sun, the earth and way beyond.
“It was really cool to see all the planets and learn facts like Jupiter is a lot bigger than the earth,” said Rachel Stroia. “It’s pretty cool that if the sun were to burn out, we wouldn’t find out about it until about eight minutes later.”
“I really liked the constellations. Leo the Lion is my favorite,” said Mia Timban.
“The subject matter is so massive. It’s very difficult for them to wrap their heads around what is where in space and the relationship between objects, explained McCormick. “It makes a big impression on them being able to see it in a three dimensional view.”
Theresa Wei agreed. “I like that it’s more 3D this way,” she said.
Helming mission control was educational presenter Dave Mitchell, who got his start impersonating an inventor. “I started with this company impersonating Ben Franklin,” he said. “What I love is afterwards when the kids come up to talk and ask questions.”
But it doesn’t stop there. “I actually heard something today I’ve never heard before about Jupiter,” Mitchell related. “I heard we have a probe that’s actually gone through one of the storms up there.”
“It was really interesting. I never knew they discovered more planets outside of Pluto,” said Uday Jalf.
“I was surprised how immersive it was. I was thinking it’d be just like watching a movie, but it was a good way to learn about the solar system and space,” said Alex Duda.
“So much of this is theory,” continued Mitchell, “but it’s scientific theory — not fairy tales — so there’s some basis for the possibilities.”
Terri McCormick continued, “To be clear, the term ‘theory’ in science is very, very different than ‘theory’ used elsewhere. People throw that around, ‘oh, it’s just a theory,’ but no, there’s so much evidence to back up a theory in science,” she explained. “A theory is backed up by mounds and mounds of evidence. It’s not just somebody’s idea, ‘oh, I have a theory on that.’ It’s not the same thing at all.”
“It was really cool how Jupiter had 68 moons. The constellations were really cool too; my favorite one is Perseus,” said Kanal Patel.
“I’m hoping the kids coming here experience the reality of the heavens, the incredible vastness and what’s yet to be explored,” said Mitchell. “Vocations and careers are sparked by things like this.”
“I’ll remember what makes the planets different. Also how earth is the only one we can live on in our solar system. But in other solar systems, they found planets we could possibly live on,” explained Rebecca Varghese.
“But we don’t know yet,” she concluded.