Remote Sensing: FAQs

How much do I need to know about planetary science and remote sensing technology in order to teach this unit?

Everything you need to know is outlined in the Educator Guides and Educator Resources on our website. Definitely check out the 8 short videos that introduce all concepts in the unit.


How long does this unit take? How much preparation is involved?

Each activity is approximately 55 minutes. There are 12 activities in the entire unit, so budget about 12 hours of instructional time. Please account 1 to 2 hours to familiarize yourself with each Educator Guidebook. If you are gathering your materials, plan a trip to a craft or general merchandise big box store. A quick reference for prep timing and activity timing is included in our Back Pocket Activity Essentials: Science and Engineering.


Do I need an assistant to run this unit? Is there special equipment needed?

An assistant would certainly be useful to assist large groups of youth in these activities, but if adequate preparation and clean up time is available, it is entirely possible to lead these activities solo. Aside from the consumable materials listed in the Educator Guidebook, you will need access to a color printer, access to the internet, and ideally a large device to watch the video in the Engineering Everywhere Prep Activity 2 and any other useful visuals you find useful and instructive.


What can be cut out if time is short?

The Science Series and Engineering Everywhere Activities build on their concepts respectively, but are stand alone units. It is not necessary to complete one in order to teach the other. If youth are very familiar with technology and engineering, then the Engineering Everywhere (EE) Prep Activities 1 & 2 can be cut, with the exception of the Engineering Everywhere Special Report Video. If youth are inexperienced with the engineering design process, we recommend that you include them. Please allow ample time for creativity in building the devices in EE Activities 4 & 5, and allow ample time at the end of each activity for reflection. If you decide to do the Science Series, you should aim to complete all four activities.


How many youth should be in each group?

The materials list in the Engineering Everywhere (EE) Educator Guide is designed for 8 groups of 3 youth. Make sure that your groups aren't so large that there aren't enough tasks to go around. Also, assigning roles like the note taker, the materials gatherer, the tester, and the presenter will help everyone stay involved.


How much will the materials cost? Do I have to use the exact materials listed?

You can purchase a complete materials kit online from the Museum of Science EiE Store for $535. If this is out of your price range, you can purchase the materials individually at any general merchandise big box store. You can also crowd-source your materials.  A letter to parents for materials donation is included in the Engineering Guide on page xxiii. A complete materials list is included on page vi of the Educator Guidebook.  Feel free to use your creativity to substitute materials if that works better for you, but make sure you test them out first to make sure they will work.


Where can I find a glossary of terms and acronyms used in this unit?

There is a glossary of terms included in both the Engineering Educator Guide (p. xvi) and the Science Educator Guide (p. 16). These and additional terms are also available on our website in the Remote Sensing Vocabulary.


What are some everyday examples of remote sensing?

We use remote sensing in our daily lives too, it's not just for studying planets. Have you ever used a GPS or Google Maps on your phone to navigate to a new location? Satellites remotely sense your location and movement to tell you when to turn! Even motion sensors that open automatic doors for you at the grocery store or turn on food conveyor belts in the checkout line use remotely sensing technology to make your trip a bit easier. Check out our content video on Remote Sensing.

As the educator, should I have made a successful tower prior to leading this activity?

It is not totally necessary to have a successful tower made. However, making one in advance can help you identify sticking points for youth ahead of time. It also may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the strategies of folding or rolling cards, in case youth need a little more instruction.


What is the difference between a criteria and a constraint? What are some relatable examples?

When engineering a device, the criteria are the requirements for solving the problem. The constraints are factors that limit how you can solve the problem. For example, say you need a funnel to pour flour into a small jar. You don't have a funnel (the problem). You need to design something to get the flour into the small opening without spilling it (the criteria). All you have is paper and a roll of clear tape (the constraints). One solution might be to roll the paper into a cone with a small opening and tape it so that it doesn't unroll (the engineered device).

How can I get youth to think about improvements to already new technologies?

Try suggesting new constraints to inspire creativity. What would you want to change about this technology? For example, could it be smaller, lighter, cheaper, last longer, more durable? What are some improvements you can make to achieve this? For instance, most people would love for their cell phone battery to last longer. That could be an improvement to a new technology.

What are some ways I can foster curiosity and ingenuity in youth while playing with the mirrors and periscopes?

Try asking youth to achieve the goal with more or less mirrors. Does your classroom have a high window? Ask youth how they might be able to use it to spy what's going on outside.

Is there a way to make a message indiscernible without the filters and legible with the filters?

No, not really. The crayons and highlighter colors are not subtle enough to make a message completely hidden until a filter is used. If this is disappointing, try hiding messages with the filters by writing a message in red and viewing it with red cellophane to see if it is harder to read. The quality of the cellophane also makes a difference.


What else can optical filters do?

Polarized sunglasses are another type of optical filter. They filter out bright reflected light so that you can see through the surface of the water or filter out glare while skiing, boating, or driving. A black light is an optical filter that allows us to see UV light.


What if someone in our group is color blind?

Typically, when people are color blind they can see some colors, but not a full range. Blue is typically easier to see for color blind people. Try having this person use the blue colors and filters as opposed to the red. It also may be an interesting opportunity for comparison, but avoid singling out this youth, in case the attention is unwanted.


What are some things that work well when trying to make a hidden message?

Squiggles and hatching can help obscure a message. So can writing other letters or numbers over the message. It may not be possible however to completely obscure the message, as discussed above.

What is LiDAR? How much do I need to know about it?

LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) is a remote sensing technology that measures the distance to a target by illuminating that target with a laser and measuring how quickly the reflected laser light comes back to the instrument. It can be used to map the elevation and topography of a landscape. Take a look at our two short explanatory videos (2 of the 8 offered) and familiarize yourself with the following FAQs to help answer youth questions about LiDAR.


Why would you use the low resolution LiDAR when the high resolution is so much better?

High resolution LiDAR is more expensive and time-consuming to produce. It is a trade-off. With the same amount of time and money, you can either have detailed image in a smaller area or less detailed image over a large area. To drive this concept home, try setting a price per straw and a maximum budget.


How can I explain the relationship between the plastic straws and LiDAR?

The straws simulate LiDAR because they demonstrate how measuring the distance to multiple points on a surface can create an image or map of that surface. Each straw represents a pixel. If you measured the height difference of each straw after pressing it on to a shape, then you would have a bunch of numbers on a grid that tell you elevation just like raw LiDAR data.


Why is 3D mapping important?

Maps are important to getting to where you want to go. That is why we use road maps in our GPS devices to get to a new place. 3D maps are just as important. Say you want to build a new road, send out search and rescue team in the mountains, or land a rover on Mars. You need to know what the terrain is like, and a 3D map is the best way to find out.


This activity is term-heavy. Where can I find a glossary of terms like pixel and resolution?

Check out the terms glossary on our website in the Remote Sensing Vocabulary. Vocabulary is also included on page 16 of the Science Educator Guide.

Should the youth engineer devices that are different from those already used? Can there be more than one device?

This depends on the amount of time and materials you have on hand. If you have limited time and materials, the same or similar devices can be used and then improved in Activity 5. With more time and materials, consider adding a constraint to spur creativity, such as only one device can be made.


Is there a way to structure this activity so that it is self-paced?

If you have a small group of youth or an assistant that is familiar with the curriculum, you can try combining activities 4 & 5 for quick-learners. Make sure you don’t skip Activity 5 though, it's a critical part of the EDP! For youth who finish early, have them make flyers or posters for the engineering showcase!


How do we help kids with failure?

Failure is a big part of the engineering design process. Engineers learn from every mistake they make and the ultimate device is better off for it. Engineers sometimes make mistakes on purpose so they can learn how to avoid them later when it's more crucial to get it right. Mistakes and failure can even lead to new inventions to solve problems that weren't even part of the original goal. Explain this to youth and that their failure is a common and important part of the process. Also, it will make improving their device that much easier in the next activity!

How can I get youth to communicate their data clearly? How can I provide more scaffolding for this concept?

Try projecting examples of maps, graphs, charts, and annotated drawings so that youth can fill their own data into a provided format.


What are some other constraints that I can add to inspire improvements?

Ask the youth, How can you improve resolution? Can you make everything into one device? Can you make the same thing with less materials? What else do you want to know about the mystery moon and how could you change your device to gather that information?


Should youth devices look similar to each other?

You may find that the devices each group creates are similar, but they do not have to be similar. The sky's the limit. The only requirements are the criteria and the constraints: What do they need to do (answer the scientist's question) and what limitations do you have (materials provided, size, etc.)


How can we help youth who do not want to modify what they have made?

Focus for a minute on how great it is that the youth are proud of their device! Congratulate them on their accomplishment. Then return to the Engineering Design Process and point out the improvement step. Also bring up the examples of improved technology in Prep Activity 2. What if we decided that we were fine with just the landline telephone or candle? Point out how much more proud they'll be when the device is even better.


How do we help kids with failure?

Failure is a big part of the engineering design process. Engineers learn from every mistake they make and the ultimate device is better off for it. Mistakes and failure can even lead to new inventions to solve problems that weren't even part of the original goal. Explain this to youth and that their failure is a common and important part of the process.


What is a mineral? What are iron and magnesium and why might we want to find them on the mystery moon?

Naturally occurring, solid, crystalline chemical compounds that are the “building blocks” of rocks. Iron and magnesium are two elements of the periodic table. Iron and magnesium are minerals commonly found in volcanic minerals and rocks, which help us understand how the mystery moon was formed.

How can I get my parents and organization excited about the engineering showcase?

Consider having youth run a marketing campaign by using brain-breaks or down time to create posters or flyers. Send invitations to family, administrators, staff, community partners, etc.


I have never done this before. What are some resources I can use to plan a showcase?

The Engineering Educator Guide has a flyer on page 84 that you can copy and post all over your organization. Try having youth that finish early decorate these and post them outside the room. You can send this home with parents as well as in invitation if time is limited for creating a letter. Consider offering snacks and drinks to make it more of an event. Set time aside prior to the showcase so that youth can help set up stations to show their guests what they made and how to test it.  You can even have youth practice the presentations.

Is there a quick reference that explains all the acronyms used?

Check out the terms glossary on our website in the Remote Sensing Vocabulary.


Is there an easier way to communicate the significance of landforms to youth?

Consider writing on a board, which landforms form due to water (delta, river valley, canyons, layered rocks); wind (yardangs, sand dunes); meteor impact (craters); volcanism (lava flows).


How far can a rover travel?

The Mars Curiosity Rover can travel up to 200 meters or 660 feet per day.

How can I introduce topographic maps to youth prior to the activity?

If youth have never been introduced to the concept of a topographic map, you may want to spend a minute doing a quick demonstration or activity. The mystery moonscape from the Engineering Activity 4 (A4) can be deconstructed to trace and make hand-drawn topographic maps. The pages of a thick paperback book can be manipulated to show a steep or shallow slope where every page edge is a contour line. If you have the time, corrugated cardboard, craft felt, or craft foam can be cut into different consecutively smaller shapes and stacked to simulate a topographic map.

What are some resources I can use to explain spectroscopy to youth?

Check out our videos on Spectroscopy in Educator Resources (2 of the 8 offered). If you have access to one, bring in a prism and using different light sources to see which kind of light has the most colors.

Is there a correct answer?

No, every answer is correct as long as it’s justified with data. Although the series may lead youth to choose Jezero Crater, it’s entirely possible to have a justifiable reason for choosing a different landing site. What matters is that youth justify their selection with an evidence-based argument.