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Heritage fourth graders win NASA contest

By By Thomas Tingle
Record Managing Editor
Before Heritage Elementary School was built off County Line Road, most of the property that the school was built on was wetlands.
A majority of the property that surrounds the school today is still in its natural state as wetlands – which gave fourth graders at Heritage the perfect opportunity to use the wetlands as an observation area while competing in a NASA Student Involvement Program called "My Planet Earth."
The students went all out in their s observation of the wetlands by measuring and mapmaking, observing and cataloging the wildlife, recording and reporting and – most importantly, working together as a team when they entered the competition. For their efforts, the students were recently awarded first place in the competition.
According to Wendy Tibbs, an enrichment specialist at Heritage, the student's observation was judged from the John C. Stennis Space Center. Dr. John Gregory, director of The University of Alabama in Huntsville-NASA Consortium, awarded the students plaques, medals and certificates.
"I let the students choose the activity from among several on the NSIP website," Tibbs said. "The competition charged its second and fourth grade entrants with choosing a 100-meter by 100-meter area and observing and recording the specifics about that area."
Tibbs said the goal in the observation was to share with the rest of the world in detail exactly what makes the area special.
"The students worked on the project from last October through January, beginning with a walk through the wetlands that front the school's property and finishing by proofreading and typing their final reports in small committees," Tibbs said.
In the process, Tibbs said the students learned mapmaking and creating a map of the area that was observed.
"They poured over field guides to discover the types of foliage, animal tracks, animal homes and habitats they observed," Tibbs said. "One committee observed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website to learn how the weather service records daily weather data.
According to Tibbs, several guest speakers provided in-depth knowledge to help in the observation, including pilot Joe McKay, who taught the students how space satellites and the use of his global positioning devise and wildlife expert Daphne Moland, from the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, who pointed out the finer details of the wildlife habitats in the area.
"The competition rules suggested the students submit their work in the form of written reports and any other artwork or documentation and photographs by working in subgroups who studied specific portions of the wetlands such as air, land and water," Tibbs said. "Instead, the students decided to study all parts of the wetlands as a complete team."
Tibbs said when the students compiled their information for the final report, they subdivided to work on the presentation in smaller groups.
"Observations and details that they may have been gathered by several different members was shared to assist in the completion of specific aspects of the study," Tibbs said. "In the final analysis, the students were impressed with their ability to pull together and work on the project as a team. Apparently, the judges were impressed as well."

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