Kerbal Space Program & STEM

by Alex Ginsberg, 8th grade

Kerbal Space Program, a free-play or “sandbox” video game, is a program that can redefine how middle schoolers and high schoolers alike learn about astrodynamics, orbital mechanics, aerodynamics and basic physics in a fun and enjoyable way. This fact was the motive behind The Philadelphia School’s choice to utilize the app during a winter intensive (elective) focused on the aforementioned STEM concepts. The idea for the intensive was proposed by 8th graders Tony Regli, Grayson Wade, and me, and was facilitated by 7th grade teacher Steve Bartholomew and technology integration specialist Matt Murray.

In our intensive, we had 16 student aeronautical engineers who were divided into four teams. Each team aimed to complete as many challenges and tasks as possible. Some examples of those challenges included successfully launching one’s own rocket, entering into orbit around the home planet, initiating an encounter, completing a flyby, and landing on the moon. In order to gain the most points as a team and win the simulated Kerbal Space Race, experienced student team leaders had to coach fellow students new to the game on how to approach each challenge.

The challenges were scaffolded, beginning with easier tasks, like escaping the atmosphere, followed by more complicated missions, like intercepting with the moon or leaving the earth’s sphere of influence. The simpler the task, the fewer points awarded; the harder the task, the more points awarded. As a student leader in the intensive, I think the points system highly encouraged students to try their hardest to complete a challenge in order to win the space race. It created competition, emulating the feeling of the original space race, which in turn challenged other students to achieve the next task and beat their opponents on the other team - in a constructive way, of course.

Every class would usually start with a video covering a current event in space, like an important recent rocket launch or a novel planetary discovery, which correlated with a subsequent discussion. From lunar landing conspiracy theories to the magic of the “low tech” slide rule, conversations involved relevant astronomy topics and made connections to great minds like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Sometimes we would view tutorials on various aspects of the game, like how to build a more reliable rocket or how to get into an orbit more quickly. After this initial explanation, one of the student leaders would demonstrate one or two strategies for how to play the game. We would then proceed to team time during which students had the ability to go into the game and try to accomplish as many challenges as they could individually or with the helpful input of a nearby student or facilitator.

I feel that the Kerbal Space Program is an engaging and accurate way to teach students about orbital mechanics and physics, but it must be well organized with good supervision and structure so students always have clear goals. Lastly, I hope the intensive is offered for years to come as part of the growing TPS STEM program.

Learn more about what we did here.

Spanish Celebration

Third grade students took part in an Immigration Celebration in Spanish as a connection with the their recent amazing performances based on the history of immigration in the United States. This celebration was hosted for Giovana and Tiziana as part of our Spanish curriculum.

On Wednesday, students went and enjoyed a delicious lunch in TartAreperia Restaurant, a Venezuelan restaurant in Fishtown. The students practiced how to order their food in Spanish and had the opportunity to try rich Latin American flavors that was new for many of them. The following day, the students met Francois Zayas, a Cuban musician, who spoke about his experience as, an immigrant to the US from Cuba. He also explained about the maracas and timbal instruments that he plays.

Any Jugglers in the House?

Last week middle schoolers in the History of Juggling intensive headed over to the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts.

Science teacher Noel Yee leads the weekly intensive class, which includes a brief history lesson, an active juggling lesson, and a wrap-up of the juggling skill learned. Noel is an International Jugglers Association board member.

Elementary Chess Goes National

By Ross Colby, TPS Chess Coach

TPS brought 15 players to the Elementary National Chess Championship in Nashville, Tennessee this weekend (May 11-13). Here’s how we did.

In the K3 Under 700 Division there were 299 players and 54 teams. TPS tied for 2nd with The Browning School of New York (3rd on tiebrakes), and we were just 1/2 point behind the first place team, PS 59 Beekman Hill. My expectations were pleasantly shattered!!

K3 U700: 3rd Place!

Niels G. (trophy tie for 30th)
Jack Ab. (trophy tie for 30th)
Mikaela O.
Max S.
Aarav H.
Deegan C.
Jones G.

We also had four players in the K5 Under 900 division. And although we didn’t place, I was very happy with the effort and improvement of our players! There were 60 teams and 370 players.

K5 U900
Nathaniel K.
Manav J.
Finn M.
Max G.

Ben R. played in the K6 U1000 section and Max G. and George D. played together in the very challenging K6 U1400 section! Together, these two players made 6 upsets! Finally, Hugo G. played in his first chess tournament, winning 3/7 games in the K-1 Under 500 section!

Congratulations to everyone and thank you to all our awesome chess parents and kids! We had a blast!

More Birds at TPS

Primary B hosted Beauty the Eclectus Parrot and Smudge the Cockatiel on Tuesday. 

Vienna's grandparents brought their two pet birds to our classroom. They shared information about birds in general and taught us about keeping birds as pets.  They even let us hold and pet the birds! 

Butterflies and Symmetry

Preschool B has turned its attention to butterflies. As we began our research on butterflies, Jonah led us in a math lesson that talked about “symmetry.” We pretended our rug was a giant butterfly and used  rubber marker spots to decorate the wings. The children worked in teams to create a beautiful and symmetrical floor butterfly. At the art table, each child made their own butterfly by dripping paint onto a paper cutout, folding it in half, and then running rollers over the entire thing. When the paper was then unfolded, voila!