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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Teachable Moment-Apollo 7 Splashdown!

Crew of Apollo 7 (NASA photo)
Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham may not be household names, but they are names that are now known in our fourth grade classroom thanks to one 10 year old girl and her Grandpa.  These gentlemen were the crew of Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo space flight!  Our young fourth grader shared a piece of their incredible story, but shared it through the eyes and stories of her Grandpa who was fortunate enough to see the end of Apollo's mission.

In honor of Veteran's Day our class wrote letters thanking a veteran in our family (or neighbor).  My student wrote to her grandfather (who happens to also live with her) and he wrote back.  Not only did he write back but he sent in his yearbook from the ship on which he was stationed, pictures of that vessel and some amazing photos of Apollo 7's splashdown from 1968!

As this young lady shared the photos (via the class document camera) she spoke knowledgeably about each one of them. The photos were taken from the ship (where her Grandpa was assigned) the U.S.S. Essex on October 22, 1968 as they recovered the space capsule from the waters. She fielded questions from her classmates and answered them intelligently.  It was clear that she spent time listening and learning from her Grandfather. 

Splashdown - Navy Frogs
Of course this was not the planned lesson of the day, but the impact this had on the students was far greater than the scheduled instruction.  The class couldn't get enough information and wanted to learn more. They asked questions about the astronauts, the spacecraft, the aircraft carrier as well lots of other questions.  It became a social studies lesson on primary sources, a science lesson on space,  a math lesson on elapsed time, a language arts lesson (we wrote poems) and more! But, perhaps what made it most exciting for students, was knowing that their classmate's Grandpa was really "there"!  It made that instant connection with them.

It is important sometimes to forgo the plans and capture the excitement and enthusiasm for learning that comes from those teachable moments.  What was your last 'teachable moment'?  Please share it in the comment section below!

Learn more with Apollo 7 Resources:
Encyclopedia Astronautica:  Scroll down to see a great timeline beginning in March 1965
Astronomy Top 100: This site speaks about Apollo 7 being broadcast 'Live'
NASA Video of Apollo 7
Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum A brief summary of Apollo 7's mission.


  1. Hi Nan. How cool is this story. Sounds like an exciting day at Boyden. I'm sure the class was thrilled and I would have loved to be there too! I remember reading your excellent previous post on primary sources. Clearly a wonderful way to learn! Great post.

  2. Hi Nancy,

    What an exciting lesson! As a Mercury/Gemini/Apollo/Shuttle space enthusiast, I loved the article. It was such an exciting time for the US. I miss getting up early to watch the launches and then the ocean recovery a few days later. What a great activity!

  3. G came home yesterday and told me the whole story! He was so excited! Thank you so much to B and her Grandfather for sharing such an unforgettable piece of their family history. Also, thank you to Mrs. Carroll for providing yet another FUN educational opportunity!

    -Nicole W.

  4. @ Carol Ann: I think learning doesn't get any better than through the use of primary sources. It makes it personal and real!

    @Anonymous: I remember watching the space crafts when we were in school. At the time, I didn't realize the magnitude of what we were witnessing. It is amazing and amazing to see how far we have come!

    @Nicole W. - There was a lot of excitement in the class and it continued today when I shared this post. I mentioned to the kids that they could go home and check out the resources. Still lots of questions flying! So glad that G was excited enough to go home and speak about it!


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