How I teach - Venturing boldly into the void

Use the anniversary of the Moon landing to fill pupils with awe

"Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed."

If you did not witness the Moon landing on 20 July 1969, it is very hard to appreciate the excitement that Neil Armstrong's words generated across the world. Many of my generation have a keen interest in space because of that day, but younger people are often ignorant of this world-changing event - and space travel in general.

The present-day International Space Station is a wonderful thing, yet it orbits at a surprisingly low altitude of 370km above the Earth's surface. In comparison, the 384,400km journey to the Moon seems out of this world.

To combat this knowledge vacuum among pupils, I try to convey the wonder of space in my science classes, making a special effort on the anniversary of the Moon landing to put students in Neil Armstrong's moon boots. That anniversary falls in just over a week's time, so the following lesson will hopefully give you some ideas to inspire the next generation of space adventurers.

The scenario of the lesson is that a mission to visit a Moon base has crash-landed short of its target. The students, as sole survivors, have to trek 100 miles across the lunar surface to the base - and no one can come to their rescue. They still have their spacesuits and plentiful oxygen, but they have to decide what other items to carry with them on their trek.

Students are given a list of what they have managed to salvage from the wreckage, but they can only take five items to aid their journey. These include a map, a compass, a two-way radio, a newspaper, a tennis racket, 30m of rope, matches, an electric heater, a gas heater, a hang-glider, an inflatable raft, distress flares, a roll of aluminium foil, biscuits, five litres of water, salt tablets and a video of Nottingham Forest FC's two European Cup triumphs.

They make their selection in groups. But before they do this, students will need to have done their homework, researching facts about the Moon and its conditions - you may be surprised by how little most pupils know about the Moon. If you are lucky enough to have a class set of laptops or tablets, the research can be done during the lesson.

To help the students choose their items, I usually supply a blank table of questions that they might want to answer, including: how long is a day on the Moon? What is the temperature on the Moon? What is the lunar surface like? Does the Moon have a magnetic field? And does the Moon have an atmosphere?

Circulate the classroom and help your pupils by making suggestions. For example, the inflatable raft could be used as a shield against the fierce heat of the Sun. But the matches would of course be useless, as would the gas heater, because the absence of atmosphere on the Moon means they would not burn.

Once your students have chosen their five items, they have to rank them in order of importance. They must be ready to justify their choices to you. There is no correct answer, so hopefully wide-ranging discussions will take place involving a lot of biological knowledge.

You could conclude the lesson by showing a short video describing that famous Apollo 11 mission; many suitable films can be found on YouTube.

And you can further your pupils' knowledge by setting them homework on the topic. Challenge them to find five interesting facts about the Apollo 11 mission, or to research five problems that would be faced if a mission to Mars were to be launched. Alternatively, you could get the class to write a letter to Nasa explaining five reasons why they should train you to be an astronaut.

Simon Porter works for international schools organisation Nord Anglia Education

Top 10 moon resources

1. Moon news

Use these simple templates to create a newspaper page about the Moon landing.

2. True moon

Help students to research and discuss conspiracy theories about the Moon landing.

3. Race to space

Use this ready-made Nasa Education lesson plan to explore the political and social climate surrounding the space race during the Cold War.

4. Hubble vision

Display these attractive posters to improve students' understanding of the timeline of space discovery, starting with the ancient Greeks and leading up to the Hubble space telescope.

5. Wax and wane

Learn about tides, phases and orbits - and what waxing and waning means - with this introduction to the Moon.

6. One small step

This engaging video from SciShow considers the amazing achievements of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on another planet.

7. Lunar origins

Discover some theories about the origins of the Moon in this comprehensive presentation, which includes a cartoon for students to complete.

8. Moon stance

This hands-on activity from Nasa Education gets children to build a home for astronauts living on the Moon.

9. Moon by day

The Royal Museums Greenwich have created this excellent guide to help classes observe the Moon during the day.

10. Sea view

Recreate the wonder of the Moon landing with these ultra-high-resolution images - collected by SpaceRip - of the first steps ever taken in the Sea of Tranquillity.

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