Extracting Science from History
By DAVID F. WINKLER
Whoa! That is the usual reaction when visitors enter the
National Museum of the United
States Navy’s Cold War Gallery. A
submarine-launched Trident C- 4
missile poised overhead tends to
evoke that type of response. A glance
to the left, where the sail of a
Sturgeon-class nuclear submarine
seems to be diving into the floor,
causes a second gasp of surprise.
With the completion of these initial Cold War gallery exhibits, there
is enough critical mass to offer visitors the opportunity to tour this
historic building at the Washington
Navy Yard that once hosted the
Navy’s Experimental Model Basin
and first wind tunnel.
With its research and development lineage, it is appropriate that this building, featuring
new exhibits detailing the history and the role science
played in the Cold War, can serve as an inspirational
source for future generations interested in technology.
Eight high school science, technology, engineering
and math (STEM) teachers traveled to Washington in
summer 2010 to examine the new exhibits with the idea
of exploiting the technology of the Cold War for use in
the classroom. Their odyssey, underwritten by the Naval
Historical Foundation (NHF), came about following a
meeting between NHF Board Director Barbara Pilling, a
former educator in the Fairfax County, Va., school system, and the Navy Museum’s education staff.
The NHF established a Teacher Fellowship program
that was advertised last January on the Navy Museum’s
website and publicized by numerous educational
organizations. Several dozen teachers from around the
Working in teams of four, the selected teacher fellows
used the displays and artifacts in the gallery’s new Covert
Submarine Operations Exhibit to create innovative
STEM lesson plans. From a range of possible submarine-related topics tied to common core and state STEM educational standards, one team was intrigued by ballistic
missiles and chose to link them to biology, geometry,
algebra. In biology, types of ballistic missiles (and subs)
provided an illustration of a use for
the dichotomous key, which is normally used for species identification
based on a series of choices between
alternative characteristics. A biology
example of shark identification with
a dichotomous key was used for
contrast and comparison.
Hands-on activities for algebra
and geometry included construction of an actual-size inflatable D5
Trident II missile with painter’s
plastic, tape and a fan. Combining
historical videos of missile launches with calculations of Polaris, Poseidon, Trident I and Trident II
missile volumes and surface areas
and graphical analysis of volume,
weight and range relationships,
students can learn about each generation of ballistic missile by calculating and graphing
size and range improvements during the Cold War.
A student teamwork project envisions designing a
“missile” using paper, plastic straws, rubber bands, paper
clips, a glue pen, balloons, craft sticks, tape, graph paper,
a ruler and scissors. After trial-and-error flight testing,
each team then would sketch a final design in computer
3-D or on graph paper, conduct a peer evaluation on
teamwork and write an essay on the engineering process.
A follow-up activity would include creating a 3-D drawing of an actual missile, then building a scale model of it.
A second team of four STEM fellows focused on several missile-related topics in statistics and chemistry: the
Cold War build-up of submarine ballistic-missile warheads, warhead reduction due to strategic arms treaties
and atomic structure/isotopes in nuclear materials.
These creative lesson plans are being uploaded on a
newwww.usnavymuseum.org website that enables
viewers to take tours of the completed and yet-to-be
completed Cold War Gallery exhibits. ■
DAVID F. WINKLER
The Trident C- 4 missile exhibit at the
National Museum of the United
States Navy’s Cold War Gallery.
Dr. David F. Winkler, a historian with the Naval Historical
Foundation, thanks Capt. John Paulson, USN (Ret.), a retired
science teacher with the Prince William County, Va., school system, who coordinated the activities of the teacher fellows, for
contributing to this article.