New app inspires kids into STEM subjects

New app launches to help children engage creatively with STEM subjects through interactive science adventure

Unlimited Space Agency has launched a new app to encourage children into STEM subjects.

In 2015, to coincide with Tim Peake becoming the first British astronaut aboard the International Space Station, the Unlimited Space Agency (UNSA) launched The Astro Science Challenge, a narrative-led series of interactive tasks designed to engage children aged 7-11 with STEM subjects. 

UNSA, whose mission is to inspire and help train the next generation of young scientists and space explorers, worked in collaboration with some of the UK’s top science organisations to create high quality lesson plans – accompanied by video from Director of Human Space Flight Jon Spooner and with guest appearances from Tim Peake – encouraged children to engage with the curriculum creatively, and showed them how their school lessons could someday help them get to space. 

Project creators the Unlimited Space Agency are now launching a free new app for iOS and Android to allow children to take part in the project and be inspired by Tim’s mission indefinitely.

The app is a new tool to engage children in STEM subjects. It can be used on the move, in the class room or at home on phones, tablets or computers. Using the app, Cadets are tasked with Missions, which are presented through videos on the app and helped along by parents or teachers who are provided with extensive lesson plans and resources. To complete each Mission, Cadets upload videos, pictures and writing to evidence their work, which is marked by their Team Leader. Badges are awarded for each successful Mission, which then advances the narrative. Each task has been co-designed with the UNSA’s partners on a curriculum-linked theme:

  • The Met Office (Space Weather)
  • The Royal Observatory (Astronomy)
  • The Science Museum (Human Spaceflight)
  • Young Rewired State (Computer Science & Coding)
  • British Science Association (Humanities)
  • ESA / UK Space Agency “Mission X” (PE, Health and Nutrition)

The new app continues the original narrative, which saw Director of Human Spaceflight Jon Spooner working in his Space Shed to teach his protégé Mini Jon all the necessary science he would need to get into space. At the end of the adventure, Mini Jon (a 3D printed model of Jon Spooner) made it onto the actual International Space Station. Now Mini Jon is back from space and ready to train the next generation of astronauts.

The project was originally piloted with 30 UK primary schools in 2011, winning the National Charity Award for inspiring children in science through the arts, the Sir Arthur Clarke Award for achievement in Space Education & Outreach, and the WISE Champion Award for encouraging girls with STEM subjects. Since November 2015, over 10,000 people have engaged with the project. More than 300 children attended the Graduation Ceremony at the Science Museum and watched Tim Peake’s launch live in the IMAX cinema. The new app will allow children to engage with the tasks by uploading written work, pictures and video for their teacher or home educator to mark. 

The Unlimited Space Agency is great. Their approach to inspiring children about science is rigorous, fun and it works! I’m proud to serve with them on their mission to inspire the next generation of scientists and space explorers – Time Peake, Astronaut

Tim Peake is a British European Space Agency Astronaut and patron of the Unlimited Space Agency. This project is one of the official education projects supported by the UK Space Agency surrounding Tim’s mission. He said, “The Unlimited Space Agency is great. Their approach to inspiring children about science is rigorous, fun and it works! I’m proud to serve with them on their mission to inspire the next generation of scientists and space explorers.” 

The Unlimited Space Agency (UNSA) has been developed by Unlimited Theatre. In 2010, Unlimited’s artistic director Jon Spooner accidentally set up his own space agency. Based out of his garden shed, the Unlimited Space Agency (UNSA) started as a fun way to tell stories about science to children. They design and deliver multi-award-winning, inspirational projects for children and young people aged 7-16 that increase engagement with and raise levels of attainment in STEM subjects. UNSA aims to help address the long term decline in the participation of young people in science and, in particular, to create more opportunities and positive role models for girls and young women. 

In addition to the awards for the Astro Science Challenge pilot, NASA awarded UNSA’s Director of Human Spaceflight (Jon Spooner) and Head of Hack (Professor Jon Rogers) Best Mission Concept in 2014 in the final Global Judging phase of NASA’s Space Apps Challenge. The award was given for their internet connected clothing, made in collaboration with fashion designers, technologists and software developers, and was selected from 671 entries from across the world.

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