International School

Cubes in Space – Year Two

What does magnetic putty, kinetic sand, aluminum, and carbon fiber have in common? These are all materials that will be tested on a NASA sounding rocket for Cubes in Space experiments.

For a second year in a row, my students have brainstormed, hypothesized, designed, and written proposals for experiments in 4×4 cm cubes. In our 7th grade science classes, we are primarily focused on earth and space science. We are fortunate to have an amateur astronomer who regularly visits our classroom to help us think beyond the classroom walls. This year we sent three science classes worth of “Cube” proposals for flight (test) consideration. We were excited to learn three cubes were selected for flight this summer.

International School Team Granted NASA Rocket Flight

Cubes in Space™ a program by idoodledu inc., in collaboration with NASA’s Langley Research Center, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and Colorado Space Grant Consortium, offers global design competitions for students 11-18 years of age to develop STEAM-based experiments for launch into space.

Used in formal or informal learning environments, students and educators are exposed to engaging online content and activities in preparation for the design and development of an experiment to be integrated into a small cube. Throughout the experience, students develop key 21st century skills; communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

Since 2014, Cubes in Space has flown nearly 400 experiments representing 1,500 educators and over 20,000 students from 57 different countries. This year nearly 600 educators and thousands of students from 39 countries participated and proposed experiments for a space on a NASA sounding rocket or high-altitude scientific balloon mission.  A total of 160 experiments were selected and were designed by students from Australia, Austria, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Mexico, Serbia, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, and the United States of America.  

The experiments will be launched via sounding rocket in late June 2017 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia or by high-altitude scientific balloon in late summer 2017 from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico.

This year’s Cubes in Space experiments will be testing the extreme conditions and forces present in a sounding rocket on their materials. Students have taken note of their pre-flight material data and observations and they will be ready to analyze their materials once their cubes are returned in the fall. If asked, I suspect students will report the tricky part of their experiment was making sure the weight of the cube met the 64 grams (+/- 2 grams) requirement. The materials used in the cubes did not weigh very much, which meant they had to be creative about how to add ballast to their cube without affecting their experiment. Once the cubes were prepped with experimental materials, there were many smiles, high fives, and joyous laughter that the cubes measured within the acceptable weight range!

We are excited to mail our package of cubes to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. We are looking forward to the summer launch and our hypotheses will have to wait until this fall to be confirmed…or not.


Cubes in Space – version 1.5

My email to my students stated, “the cubes have arrived…” and in an after school flurry of fun, fascination, and excitement the box containing two cubes that flew into space was unceremoniously opened.


Let’s open our Cubes!


This is the second school year my 7th grade science classes have participated in the Cubes in Space program. Students are provided an opportunity to propose an experiment to be launched into space on a NASA rocket or balloon. The project requires students to design an experiment that will fit inside a 4cm sized cube. If the experiment proposal is accepted, the students’ cubes will be launched via sounding rocket from NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia in late June 2017 or on a high altitude balloon launched from the NASA Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility at Fort Sumner, New Mexico in August 2017.

Last year was our first year to participate and we were fortunate to have four student proposals accepted. The first two cubes launched on the sounding rocket the first week after school released for the summer. The second two cubes were scheduled to launch on the research balloon in late August but the launch was weather delayed until early October this school year. Although we are still patiently awaiting the final two cubes to review and analyze data, my students have shared their experiences with our local newspaper. It was delightful to hear what my students learned about the scientific process and the amount of collaboration and communication that is necessary to be successful with completing their experimental designs and proposals.

Bellevue students send science experiments to space

To be completely honest, it was extremely difficult to not open the delivered parcel that contained the first two (rocket) cubes this summer. I needed to be patient and wait until school resumed and let my student scientists open the package first. Since then my (now former, who are 8th grade) students have been periodically checking in at lunch or after school to provide updates on their summary and presentation of results, as this is a requirement of the Cubes in Space project.


Just delivery – Cubes from rocket launch


This year’s new 7th grade science students have just been introduced to the Cubes in Space project. We have begun the initial work of gathering ideas for objects that could be tested in space. A range of questions from “What materials will NASA allow?” “How much does gravity decrease as the rocket launches?” to even “What is a variable?” There is genuine interest and excitement to think scientifically about what can be tested in space.

A recent comment from one of last year’s student said it best, “It was the highlight of science last year.” By the smiles and questions from this year’s students, it looking like Cubes in Space is on track to be a science highlight again.

Focus Week – Wearable Tech

At International School we have a tradition of designating one week in spring as a “Focus Week.”  This week allows for students to experience and learn about occupational academics. Teachers plan and prep for one week, for just one class, for one group of students, all day.  Some focus weeks involve trips overseas, others designing video games or becoming a local culinary chef.

Pitching Wearable Tech

“Technology is a huge part of each of our lives and new devices like Fitbit, Microsoft Hololens, Microsoft Band, Apple Watch, and Google Wear are helping us do cool things we’ve never dreamed up.  These devices (called “wearables”) use sensors to understand your body’s signals to help you stay healthy.  These sensors include ways to watch your heart rate, see how you sleep, understand when you are stressed, or even when you are getting sick! Come try many of these cutting edge devices, think about what works well and what needs improving, and then design your own wearable ideas with Microsoft Engineers!”

Focus week was geared towards middle school students learning about the design of “wearable” computers that use sensors to do cool and useful things. We would go on a guided tour of Microsoft’s secret labs to see its wearable technology, and learn from multiple computer engineers, scientists, and designers.

Prior to focus week I heard from a few high school students they too were interested in wearable tech and were dismayed it was only offered for middle school students.  Apparently wearable tech is a hot item at any grade level.

A week of fun and learning

We had an awesome week of learning, testing, tearing apart and designing prototypes of wearable tech.  Jason, our lead Microsoft host and learning guide, helped students to understand the science, technology, designing, data management and marketing behind most wearable fitness trackers. We began the week with trying out our own fitness trackers and connecting to the various mobile apps.  From there we had a day tour at Microsoft, talking and learning from the doers of wearable tech. It wasn’t just a “look and see” tour it was “let’s have YOU try this out and understand how we make this work” tour.  We had a behind the scenes look at current and future design and prototype development of fitness bands. We discussed the how testing is done with the exercise coaches who collect and source the data used for health tracking. Lastly we participated in how user testing is conducted and the psychology behind it.  All in all it was a well-rounded glimpse of a myriad of areas involved with wearable tech.

As the week progressed we reviewed the pros and cons of a variety of different health and fitness trackers, which had the best software to worst hardware. Later we disassembled old Microsoft Bands, to see how the hardware is put together to enable the software to function. We also learned about how coding and algorithms are vital to understanding how movement data is calculated and returned to the end consumers as something useful for their health and exercise tracking.

The end of the week allowed for learning the many facets of design and prototyping. We learned from two experts and then students designed their own wearable tech prototypes to present to the experts and other interested focus week community members.

Will there be future wearable tech scientists, developers, designers in our midst? Maybe or maybe not – who knows? Maybe what will designed hasn’t been thought of yet, or has it?