Kids as Airborne Mission Scientists

What is Remote Sensing ?


Related Subject Area: Science

Overall Problem: Are there active lava flows on Kilauea volcano?

Relationship of problem in this lesson to overall problem: At this point, students have developed a cursory understanding of what remote sensing is, e.g., the acquisition of information about an object, without being in physical contact with that object. However, to investigate where there are active lava flows on Kilauea, students need to develop a deeper understanding of how remote sensing works and how it is used to study the earth. The problem in this lesson is to develop a more precise definition of remote sensing and determine specifically how remote sensing can help investigate active lava flows on Kilauea.

Estimated Time Required: Two 50 minutes class periods.

Student Outcomes/Objectives:

  •  Students will be able to describe the basic elements and the process of remote sensing.

Prerequisite skills or knowledge:

  • Ability to work in teams
  • Basic understanding of problem solving
  • Basic reading skills
  • Basic presentation preparation skills

Teacher Preparation:

  • Print Student Journal / Worksheet pages for these activities
  • Secure internet computers and projection equipment.
  • Gather enough red, pink, dark blue, and light blue pencils, markers, or crayons for students to use during the mapping activities.
  • Bookmark student website on student computers (if not available, print and copy necessary websites).

Student Reflection and Assessment: Reflection   |  Assessment

Education Standards supported by this Lesson:

National Science Education Standards | Project 2061 Benchmarks

National Standards for School Mathematics | National Technology Standards | National Geography Standards

Extension Ideas to support National Education Standards for this Lesson:

Math | Technology | Geography

Teacher Activities
  Student Activities
FRAME the lesson by having students experience remote sensing while drawing a sensory map of a prepared surface with different elevations and temperatures. 

Teacher preparation immediately prior to class:

  • freeze water in several different size bowls
  • secure a few heating pads, heating pillows, or some other devices that will hold heat such as a bags of vegetables or beans, heat in a microwave or some other means just prior to the activity.
  • place the two or three of each of the hot and cold items in different locations on a table top space that is approximately 2 feet by 2 feet. 
  • place a light cloth over the top of the area.

Note: You may want to setup several of these areas depending on the size of your class. This activity should proceed quickly so that the heat and cold zones do not deteriorate before the students have a chance to 'sense' them. 

Separate students into teams of two.

Direct students, without any explanations, to do the following activity.

  • draw a topographical map of what they see on the table top, showing the differences in elevation evident on the table area.
  • this map represents a visible image of the area

Direct one student from each team to take turns waving their hand closely over the top (not touching) of the area explaining what they feel (sense: hot and cold) while their teammate draws indications of the differences in temperature on their visible map.








Participate in the activity

  • Students draw the visible map of the prepared table top area.
  • Students indicate differences in temperature zones on their maps.


INFORM students of the relationship between the sensory map activity and remote sensing instruments. Students will begin to develop an understanding of remote sensing by relating the sensing map activity to remote sensing fundamentals -- process and elements.

Ask students to relate the sensing activity they just completed to the  process of remote sensing

  • What did you see in the area? (visible images)
  • What did the area look like from what you felt? (sensing temperature)
  • How were you able to draw a map of the differences in temperature?
  • What process did you have to go through to develop this sensory map? 

Inform students that the activity they just completed is representative of how remote sensing instruments work. Now, that they have seen an example of remote sensing they will further explore each of the elements of remote sensing and how they work together to provide scientists with the data they need to study the earth. Your goal is to develop a detailed drawing and description of how remote sensing works.



Sample responses:

  • A 2 ft. by 2 ft. area with high and low points, the location of the high and low points.
  • Different parts of the area were either hot, warm, cool, or cold, and the location of temperature boundaries.
  • Waving my hand over the area I could feel (prompt for 'sense') changes in temperature and I gave that information to my teammate who indicated the changes on the map.
  • First we drew a picture of what we saw, then we gathered temperature information by waving our hands over the area (not touching it), and transferred that information onto our map.

EXPLORE the elements of the remote sensing process. Students will develop a scientific explanation of remote sensing based on an exploratory activity. This level of understanding will help them learn the correct terminology for discussing remote sensing.

Direct student to explore the following website and compare the major elements and process of remote sensing to the sensory activity they just completed.

Direct students to define remote sensing in their own words, complete the elements of remote sensing (activity 2) worksheet, and draw a picture of the remote sensing process cycle (activity 3)

Teacher Resources




Activity Instruction

The goal of this activity is to relate the previous sensory activity to the processes and the elements of remote sensing. 

  1. Break students into several teams
  2. In teams review the tutorial on website and further explanation of remote sensing.
  3. In teams review the following diagram and explanation of remote sensing and an explanation of Airborne Remote Sensing.
  4. In teams identify the relationship between the sensory activity and remote sensing tutorials and complete the activity 2 and 3 worksheets.

TRY using new knowledge to apply new understanding of remote sensing to the Kilauea volcano mission.

Ask How do you think we can use remote sensing to identify where active lava flows are on Kilauea?

  • prompt for element and process responses, such as to sense the heat or reflected light from lava using airborne remote sensing instruments.

Prompt students to think about what they just learned about remote sensing and develop a model of how the remote sensing will be used to identify where the active lava flows are on Kilauea. They should draw and label of picture of the remote sensing process and respond to the questions on the student activity sheet (activity 4).

Discuss student maps and responses to question.

Prompt student to complete their reflection journal for this lesson.

Discuss next lesson: 

  • We just learned the about the basic elements and processes of  remote sensing... but, 

Ask students ...

  • What questions do you still have about remote sensing?
  • How does remote sensing give scientists images of things we can't see, like hot and cold?
Summarize lesson by stating that these questions are what we will investigate in the next lesson.




Students complete activity 4 in the student journal








Students complete their reflection journal.


Sample responses:

  • How does remote sensing actually work?
  • What needs to be considered when planning a remote sensing missions, such as day or night data collection, altitude of the aircraft for collecting data, angles of the instruments to the target, and 

Student Reflection Activities
  • Prompt students to relate their understanding of remote sensing to the volcano mission.
  • Prompt students to record the questions they have, the information they think they know, and ideas for additional investigation of the problem in their reflective journal. 


  • Student definition of remote sensing.
  • Students identify the key components and processes of remote sensing, including:
    • energy source
    • interaction with target
    • sensor, recording of energy by the sensor
    • receiving and processing station
    • procession, interpretation, and analysis
  • Students demonstrate their understanding of how the basic concepts of remote sensing relate to the volcano mission. 

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Ideas for Math lesson enhancements:

  • Ratios: Students draw maps to scale of the 2 by 2 surface area. 
  • Graphing: Students create graphs to look at relationships between hot and cold zones and high and low areas on their maps.
  • Calculating area: Students calculate the area of the hot and cold regions on their sensory map.

Related National Education Math Standards Standard:

  • to be determined

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Ideas for Geography lesson enhancements:

  • Students identify other regions of the world by examining remote sensing images taken from around the world.

Related National Education Geography Standards Standard:

  • to be determined

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Ideas for Technology lesson enhancements:

  • Word processing: Students create their own electronic journal for recording their notes and ideas during KaAMS activities.
  • Graphics software: Students create their maps using a graphics package. Students create a picture of the remote sensing process using a graphics package.
  • Web development: Students create a web page indicating the hot and cold zones on their map including definitions of remote sensing. Students create a web site illustrating their understanding of the elements of remote sensing and how remote sensing works.

Related National Education Science Technology Standard:

  • to be determined

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Worksheet 2

Remote Sensing Definition

Remote sensing is the science (and to some extent, art) of acquiring information about the Earth's surface without actually being in contact with it. This is done by sensing and recording reflected or emitted energy and processing, analyzing, and applying that information (Reference-

  Remote Sensing Elements


Element in the tabletop mapping activity

This element in the tabletop area is similar to what element in the remote sensing website?

This element represents what part of the remote sensing process?

Part of remote sensing

Hot and cold items under the surface 


Energy Source

Temperatures emitted from hot and cold items 

Reflected energy  or emitted energy 

Interaction with target

Hand waving over the surface area

Satellite, Satellite Record

Sensor, Recording of Energy by the sensor 

Students describing what they are feeling while waving their hands over the surface area


Receiving and processing station

Topographical and sensory map of area


Processing , Interpretation and analysis

Worksheet 3

Remote Sensing Process Cycle:

  Remote Sensing Process  

Worksheet 4

Applying your understanding of remote sensing to the Kilauea volcano mission*

1. What can be sensed from the Kilauea volcano to tell where the active lava flows are?

Heat, Steam, Lava, Plants, Rocks, Clouds 

2. What are the possible energy sources on a Kilauea volcano mission?

Sunlight reflected from volcano, Heat emitted from volcano.

3. Where will the remote sensing instruments be sensing from during the investigation of Kilauea?

In NASA Aircraft

4. What might the final data look like?

Airborne images of Kilauea volcano showing the volcano features and locations of heat, steam, lava, plants, rocks, etc. in different colors. The images will show characteristics that we may not be able to see with our eyes.

The student picture should have an indication of an aircraft over the Kilauea volcano, energy sources including the sun and lava, transmission of sensory information from the volcano surface to the aircraft (remote sensing instrumentation), data analysis stations, and some indication of the data in a final form. 

(* For teacher: The above answers are a few of the possible student responses. It is recommended that you review the the following websites: )

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rev. 26 MAR 01