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Science challenge blasts off

Unlimited Space Agency's schools science challenge concludes on day of Tim Peake mission to international space station

Posted by Stephanie Broad | December 18, 2015 | Events

This autumn, over 400 primary school children took part in a free, six-week interactive science project hosted by The Unlimited Space Agency (UNSA) and some of the UK’s biggest space and science organisations.

The Astro Science Challenge coincides with British European Space Agency astronaut and patron of UNSA, Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The project concluded this week at a graduation ceremony held at the Science Museum in London, where the children were congratulated for transitioning from cadets to agents. Tim Peake also broadcasted a live message to the children from space.

Tim's message to pupils

During the Astro Science Challenge, class ‘cadets’ were assigned six different themed missions, each one co-designed with UNSA’s partners, including the Met Office, the Royal Observatory, the Science Museum and the UK Space Agency. The challenges directly referenced real science that Tim will carry out on the ISS, including space weather, astronomy, human spaceflight, coding, humanities and nutrition.

Jon Spooner, director of human spaceflight operations at UNSA says, “Space travel is exciting, no matter what age you are, and there are so many educational angles to Tim’s mission that this project seemed a natural next step for us and the partners. We all wanted to use this massive adventure to boost engagement in core subjects and give teachers and pupils a free way of sharing in the excitement. We want to be able to inspire younger children and help train the next generation of scientists and space explorers and, most importantly, to have fun learning.” 

Children were presented with certificates to mark the completion of the challenge

We spoke to Maria Rossini, Education Partnerships Manager at the British Science Association, who helped develop the project. She said: “Seeing a theatre company engage kids with STEM in a creative way was just right up our street. We had the option of being involved in setting a mission, which was called ‘living in space’. We were really keen that the young people were able to identify with Tim and make a link between his life and their lives – that it’s not just about what goes on in space, but what happens here. We were very keen on it being cross-curricular and that it’s not just a science challenge but also a maths and a literacy one that links everything together – it’s very integrated. Everyone in the education world knows that if you can make links in students’ brains, they remember things better and they learn better, put things in context. 

“Part of our challenge was all about how we measure time. We left it very open as to how they would communicate it, so there were videos, models using apples and torches, globes, they even used Lego. They compared their day to Tim’s – an astronaut’s day is very regulated, so they were comparing their day with that regulated day. They also wrote a letter to Tim.”

Everyone in the education world knows that if you can make links in students’ brains, they remember things better and they learn better, put things in context    

Programmes such as the Astro Science Challenge help schools appreciate science as a cross-curricular life skill. Maria continues: “We think that science is a central part of our culture, and in order to have a rich cultural experience you need to have a certain confidence in terms of engaging with science. Our aim at the British Science Association is to equip and offer people the opportunity, whether they’re five or 50, to be able to engage, enjoy and get involved with science. In terms of schoolwork, we’re very keen on things that involve hands-on, real experiences to put science in context, a genuine investigation or genuine challenge, not just science as a recipe. I think sometimes it can be tempting, in the classrooms, to do the same things every year and all the kids come out with the same product – there’s an answer that they know you’re looking for. 

“Whatever way you deliver your curriculum, there are always opportunities to have sections that are more cross-curricular, so if you’re in a situation where you have your science and your English and maths all split up, things like British Science Week are opportunities to think, how can we integrate this? The Astro Science Challenge is a really good example of cross-curricular learning.” 

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