SPRING HILL — Fox Chapel Middle School earth science teacher David Harris saw a notice recently that had been sent to education institutions about an intriguing giveaway. He mentioned it to co-worker Jennifer Keeney and together they filled out paperwork and sent it to NASA.
Several weeks later they received, for the cost of shipping (paid for by the school) a real space shuttle exterior tile.
And it was a bargain, too.
"The tile costs $1,500, but we got it for $23.40," Harris said.
The tile is kept locked up, stored in its shipping box, until a case can be built.
Harris would like to display it in a Plexiglas box for security and visibility, but wants the tile to be accessible because of its most astonishing feature: It is surprisingly light.
"Some of the kids who were here when we got it were amazed at the weight," Harris said.
Numbers on the tile indicate where it would fit onto the body of the spacecraft. Harris said an activity he would like to do with his students is to determine the precise spot it would have been.
It will be one more tool for the teachers to teach space science. "We want the students to see how NASA's technology collaborates with technology today," Keeney said.
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In an unrelated lesson, Harris took about 40 students on a field trip to Rucks Pit, a privately owned inland area near Okeechobee that's a favorite for certain types of treasure hunters.
It is a place to find minerals and long-empty shells. Harris and the students found calcite crystals attached to shells or broken from shells (called floaters) that are more than 2 million years old.
"It's so rewarding to see these kids when they find something," Harris said. "It's kind of like taking children fishing."
The pit is supposedly the only place in the world where these particular kind of crystals are found, Harris said. "That's what they tell us," he said.
The field trip was an illustration of ancient shells found far from the ocean. Harris explained how fossils are created with time and pressure. The students saw "how the Earth's surface is constantly changing," Keeney said.