This April youngsters will be have the opportunity to discover all about life in outer space when Leicester’s National Space Centre plays host to a live satellite link up with the International Space Station. The centre is one of five venues across Europe that has been selected to host a live video conference of this kind. The Space Centre has also launched a competition asking schoolchildren to come up with best questions to ask. The lucky winners will get free entry for themselves, two classmates and a teacher to ask the questions live in the centre’s Space Now gallery. The video link is being brought to the Space Centre via the European Space Agency. Not only will ESA astronaut André Kuipers answer the children’s queries he will also carry out a series of gravity based experiments whilst on board the Space Station his results will then be compared to the children’s results.
Whilst there is no denying that the video linkup is a very special event for the Space Centre its year round programme of educational workshops is also extremely impressive. Last year was the centre’s most successful since it first opened its doors back in 2001 attracting 67,000 young people to its educational events and 220,000 visitors in total. The success of the National Space Centre’s educational programme can be put down to the exclusive interactive activities and the broad age range covered by the programme. Workshops offer schoolchildren from Key Stage 1, (aged 5 to 7,) all the way up to Key Stage 4 older pupils at GCSE level the chance to get involved. The Simulated Space Missions that take place in the Challenger Learning Centre are an example of an activity that suits all ages. The only space simulator of its kind outside of the United States the Challenger has the Rendezvous with a Comet mission aimed at younger children and the Team Building mission aimed at 11-13 year olds.
Other highlights include the NXT Rover exercise in which children work with model of a Mars Rover. They must programme the rover to move around a special course. During the exercise children learn about the planet’s atmosphere and terrain. In the Our Earth Under Threat workshop youngsters have to decide what the best course of action should be when dealing near earth objects. Throughout the one hour workshop they are given various pieces of information and have to decide how the problem should be dealt with.
The National Space Centre Educational Manager Chris Darby said
“We strive to have three core elements to our educational workshops. Firstly that the activities support learning and are curriculum based, each event should also be fun and enjoyable for the children finally the workshops that take place inside the centre have to be something wouldn’t be possible to do back at school”.
However, for those schools that are unable to bring a class down to the visit the Space Centre there is the Outreach programme. The Outreach programme us online conferencing to create a virtual classroom experience. These can take the form of a one hour ask the expert session in which a specialist in a particular field answers 20 questions aided by an audio visual presentation. Whilst the Stellar Evolution workshop looks at the lifecycle of stars, how they are formed the radical changes they undertake and eventually how they die. These video conferences do not just happen with schools in the UK so far the centre has made contact with schools in the USA, Holland, Luxemburg, Egypt and South Africa.
Another element to Outreach events it the inflatable planetarium dome which can be taken out to schools. Up to 30 children can go inside the planetarium to witness the projections of stars and groups of constellations on the inside.
Chris Darby explains why visiting the Space Centre is such a unique experience for young people, he said “I really enjoy the looks on children’s faces when they have been through one of our programmes and see that wow factor. If children go away from here inspired by what they’ve seen they will often interrogate their teachers on the subject. The teacher then picks up the ideas and uses space as the context to teach the children. I don’t care how old or young you are space is really exciting to people of all ages”.
This article first appeared in the Spring edition of Pukaar magazine.