Creating/Improving the International Space Station

By amanda hyman, November 30, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Science

Lesson Time

275 minutes for classroom activities


Students have many misconceptions about gravity in space.  Students will learn about microgravity in space and why astronauts experience what they experience in space and on the International Space Station.  Through research, students will identify one of the challenges that astronauts experience while living in space and develop innovative solutions for one or more of the difficulties.  Through the design process, students will need to use their knowledge of gravity and how the body works in space.  Students must take into consideration their clients: astronauts living for extended periods in space. 

National Standards


Standard 2. Understands Earth's composition and structure

Standard 3. Understands the composition and the structure of the universe and Earth’s place in it

Thinking and Reasoning

Standard 5. Level III. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques

1. Generate alternative courses of action and compares the possible consequences of each alternative.

2. Selects the most appropriate strategy or alternative for solving a problem.

Working with Others

Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group

Standard 5. Demonstrates leadership skills

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts Standards Writing 

Grade 6-8

Text Types and Purposes:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.A Introduce claim(s) about a topic or issue, acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.B Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.C Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.A Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories as appropriate to achieving purpose; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.5 With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

English Language Arts Standards: Speaking and Listening

Grade 6-8

Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3 Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

English Language Arts Standards: Science & Technical Subjects 

Grade 6-8    

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.3 Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.7 Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.8 Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.9 Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.10 By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend science/technical texts in the grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.


Students will:

  • understand weightlessness and microgravity
  • understand the difficulties and challenges of living in space and how astronauts are affected by the conditions of space
  • listen to personal accounts of astronauts (videos) and make observations about the living conditions of astronauts in order to improve the living situation for astronauts



  • lab notebooks with class notes
  • cardboard
  • drawing paper
  • colored pencils
  • videos of astronauts in space


  • microgravity: a condition in space in which only minuscule forces are experienced; virtual absence of gravity; a condition of weightlessness
  • weightlessness: having little weight; lacking apparent gravitational pull


1. Students will choose one or two other people to work with.  Teachers will them combine those groups to form groups of approximately five students.  Groups will be heterogeneous so that each group will have students with different ability levels.

2. Prior to the introduction to the challenge, students will have received lessons on weightlessness, gravity, and how/why objects orbit around the Earth.  Students will also watch internet videos and research what life is like for astronauts living in space and living in a spacecraft.  They will understand what everyday life is like for the astronauts.

3. Introduction to the Challenge: Identifying the Problem – Students will have do identify one problem that astronauts encounter while living/working in microgravity and design a portion of their dwelling that will address that problem. (20 minutes)

4. Review:  Students will review the challenge and make sure they have identified an actual problem that exists for astronauts. (20 minutes)

5. Investigate:  Students will continue to investigate their problem by reviewing the research that matches their specific problem.  They must make sure that their problem has not already been addressed or solved in a way that they cannot change or add to in an innovative way. (20 minutes)

6. Frame and Reframe:  After identifying solutions that already exist, and confirming that the challenge/problem they chose is actually a significant problem that has not been previously eradicated, students will finalize the problem they wish to address.

7. Generate Solutions/Brainstorming:  Students will get a short lesson about how to brainstorm and why it is important to accept everyone’s ideas.  Model brainstorming by using an everyday example.  For instance, in the students’ science classrooms they sit on uncomfortable metal stools.  Model brainstorming solutions for this problem.  Many of the solutions can be impossible, such as all students will sit on pillows on the floor instead.

8. Then students will brainstorm ideas that will address their specific challenge.  They must come up with a list of at least twenty-five solutions, which may or may not be plausible. (10 minutes)

9. Then students will choose one of the ideas to develop.  After they have chosen one idea, students will work independently to create numerous sketches or written descriptions of that idea.  Students will have to turn in at least five individual ideas to show that they participated in the brainstorming process. (20 minutes)

10. Edit and Evaluate: Students will then use their individual ideas to create a single model of their design.  They will create a prototype using sketches, models, and descriptions of their design. (45 minutes)

11. Share and Evaluate: Toward the end of the time students are finishing their models, parent and teacher volunteers will walk around and listen to individual groups present and talk about their ideas.  Students will write down the feedback from their evaluators. (15 minutes)

12. Finalize: Taking into account feedback from the volunteers, students will finalize their models.  They must have a diagram or model as well as some written explanation of their design and how it specifically addresses the problem they identified.

13. Articulate:  Students will present their designs to the class as well as the panel of astronauts (teacher and parent volunteers). (40 minutes)



Students will be evaluated on their process as well as the content.  Teacher and parent volunteers will walk around with a rubric that assesses the students’ process as well as if their design addressed the difficulties of weightlessness and astronaut living.  Each teacher and parent will complete a rubric during the informal presentations as well as during the final presentations.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students can use the design process learned through this activity to figure out specific problems of living in their community or working in their schools.  For example, students can redesign elements of their classroom or school to make it more comfortable for teachers and students. 

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