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Pixels on Fire
https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/teach/activity/pixels-on-fire/

California Institute of Technology Jet Propulsion Laboratory, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

In this activity, students use measurement and area skills to learn about remote detection of wildfires from space. After detecting mock wildfires with mobile devices, students then study satellite-data visualizations to determine the start dates of actual California wildfires.

This activity takes one 30-60 minute period

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»


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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • This activity introduces students to the world of remote sensing.
  • Students learn about detecting wildfires but do not learn about how this can be connected to climate change, so extra effort will be needed to tie the activity to climate.
  • This activity would work well integrated into a unit on technology, climate change, and general earth sciences or geography.
  • The teacher will need to go through the process beforehand to gain a level of competency before sharing with students and to modify when necessary.
  • The activity requires a smart cell phone, so this may limit usability to some. If students have cell phones they may also require permission from parents to download an app, so preparing students in advance will be necessary.

About the Science

  • Students use measurement and area skills to learn about remote detection of wildfires from space. After detecting mock wildfires with mobile devices, students then study satellite-data visualizations to determine the start dates of actual California wildfires.
  • Students participate in an activity that replicates how remote sensing techniques allow for enhanced observations of Earth.
  • Students learn about the detection of energy via sensors, resolution of sensors, and sizing of pixels.
  • This activity does not go into the details of the difference between active and passive remote sensing.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • This is a hands on activity that has students learn about the abstract concept of remote sensing through participation in their own remote sensing activity.
  • Students simulate what satellites see and how they locate wildfires to alert emergency crews efficiently.
  • There is a brief explanation of remote sensing and the function of satellites. Then, students use a mobile phone app to detect "fires," replicating how satellites detect processes/events on earth.
  • This is followed by an activity where students use a free NASA app to learn the start date of real California wildfires by looking at remote sensing data.
  • There are discussion questions at the end to further students' thinking as well as a list of extension activities.
  • This activity would be best for middle and high school students. If used in upper elementary, modifications will be needed to simplify the activity.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • A pixelation app (NASA's "Eyes on the Earth") is required for this activity, there are several free ones for iOS and Android.
  • The technical quality of this lesson is adequate for the learning outcomes.
  • The scaffolded directions are clear and concise and give examples of apps and devices that could be used.

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