Set the controls for the heart of the sun

First the setting was Versailles, then a coastal town after an oil spill at sea, then a local rubbish dump. Now Learning and Teaching Scotland (with the Glasgow Science Centre) is preparing to take schoolchildren to the final frontier.

Ticket to Space, the fourth and most ambitious of its online learning events funded by the National Grid for Learning, blasts off on October 28, when participating pupils will enter space school as raw recruits. They will return to Earth - if the impulse drive doesn't fail and the Romulans don't get them - on December 20.

Over the eight weeks, the recruits will carry out online and offline missions designed to extend their knowledge, expand their horizons and challenge their preconceptions. (The assignments also cover the content of 5-14 science: Earth and space, levels C-D, and there are links to 5-14 technology and information and communications technology syllabuses.) Week 1 begins 20,000 years ago, around a Stone Age campfire, while sparkling stars in the black sky turn slowly above. "The head of the group should begin to muse about the night sky: why the day changes from darkness to light; what the bright lights twinkling in the sky are; why it is warmer during the day."

The recruits will use drama and role-play to explore pre-scientific ideas and confront their misconceptions, such as "the moon is bigger than the stars" and "night is a black cloud covering the sun". By the end of the week, they have moved on from the Mesolithic to the scientific era and gained the perspective to travel in space.

The second week is induction at space school, when online and offline activities begin in earnest. Working in groups, the youngsters will search the Internet for data on the planets, which they will use to construct scale models using ping-pong balls, melons, oranges, peas, peppercorns and the school sports field.

During each subsequent week, online activities focus on a different interactive multimedia animation designed by LT Scotland and accessed through its secure Pioneer learning environment. These include a fly-past of all the planets in the solar system, designing and testing a planetary probe, a model of the influences on planetary temperature and a dynamic simulation of the solar system that gives users a feeling for gravity's subtle effects on motion.

The children are encouraged to compile questions for an Ask the Experts session in the final week, while moderated chatrooms will allow them to share their thoughts with children across Scotland.

Detailed instructions, resources lists and background information are provided for offline activities every week, including the human, technical and economic challenges of space travel and exploring the greenhouse effect.

The teacher guides and lesson plans for Ticket to Space are a tremendous resource, as might be expected of materials produced jointly by a former headteacher and a scientist at the Glasgow Science Centre.

The explanations are clear and concise, the activities imaginative, the lessons well-structured and progressive, and the background information that comes with each plan is an invaluable crib sheet. Production standards are high and the materials contain almost no errors.

Elsewhere, schools would have to pay dearly for a resource as outstanding as this. In Scotland it is free. Primary teachers will not find a more effective or imaginative way to tackle 5-14 science in the classroom than this.

Douglas Blane Ticket to Space will be launched on the NGfL in Action stand, C40, at 12.45pm, September 25. www.ngflscotland.gov.uktickettospaceLorna Sabbagh, Glendelvine Primary, will talk on her Virtual Oil Spill experience at 1.15pm, September 25, 26

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