Space travel, technology and aliens


It's out of this world

It is not easy being stranded all alone, far from home, particularly when you are an alien. The classic 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which tells the story of a small, lovable alien marooned on Earth, offers many lessons for the classroom.

Steven Spielberg's portrait of childhood, and of 10-year-old Elliott's interaction with E.T., was based on an imaginary friend that the film-maker created as a young boy after his parents divorced - just as Elliott's have. Missing his father's presence, Elliott is drawn to the creature he finds hiding in his family's garage. The film's message is a very human one, tapping into themes of loss, personal relationships, courage and compassion.

Another non-human who has lessons for our species is the eponymous star of WALL.E, a slightly hopeless robot left alone on Earth after the planet has been abandoned. His job is to clean up the mess people have made over centuries of consumerism. In Pixar's 2008 film, we see WALL.E (pictured) fall in love with another robot and set off on a moving journey to save the planet.

Introduce your students to science fiction and the joys of learning through film with resources from TESConnect partner FILMCLUB UK. bit.lyFILMCLUBresources


Animals on a mission

The first animals were launched into space in 1947, when fruit flies were used to study the effects of radiation exposure. The insects have more in common with humans than might first be imagined.

Then, in 1949, Albert II became the first monkey in space after the failure of the original Albert's mission on ascent. Albert II, a rhesus monkey, died on impact after a parachute malfunction. Several more primates of different species were launched by the US in the 1950s and 1960s, implanted with sensors to measure vital signs. But the death rate was high. Most died on missions or soon after landing.

But Soviet space dog Laika (which means "barker" in Russian) became the first living creature to orbit the Earth when she travelled in Sputnik 2 in November 1957. Her mission was part of research into whether people could survive in space. Sadly, Laika did not: she died during the flight.

The earliest animals used in aeronautical exploration were a sheep, a duck and a rooster sent aloft in 1783 by the Montgolfier brothers to demonstrate their invention, the hot air balloon.


- Students design a postcard from space in this lesson from Physics_Teacher. bit.lySpaceTourism

Jesta123's cross-curricular booklet will help children to create their own alien planet. bit.lyAlienPlanet

- Explore space to infinity and beyond with outonthewolds' selection of Buzz Lightyear-inspired presentations. bit.lySpacePPT

- Encourage children to write their own science fiction stories with a lesson plan and activities from DavidHows1977. bit.lySciFiStories


- Help your class to understand how pneumatics creates movement - and bring robots to life - with lorraryall's lesson plan. bit.lyRobotsTopic

- Set students a futuristic challenge and get them to design a rover to land on Mars. bit.lyMarsExplorers

- Is there life on other planets? Under-5s discuss aliens in laluna404's activity. bit.lyAlienLifeActivity

- Students make a simple telescope and find out how to identify constellations in a lesson from TESConnect partner Hamilton Trust. bit.lyStarsAndMoon


Engineers of the future

By the time today's 5-11s are of working age, it is estimated that the UK will need more than 2 million additional engineers. But how can we persuade children that design and technology can be dynamic and exciting?

The James Dyson Foundation's Ideas Box, a free product analysis and design resource for children aged 5-11 aims to inspire students to think like a design engineer and look critically at the world around them. Each box, available to teachers in the UK on loan, contains a Dyson Air Multiplier fan, lesson plans, a DVD and posters. Challenge your class to redesign everyday objects that frustrate them, such as lunch boxes and pencil cases.

The foundation also has plenty of other ideas that can be easily accessed online. Why not encourage students to build their own cyclones using the available PDF? Cardboard modelling is an inexpensive and quick way to test their designs. And when they have made their cyclone, it can be connected to a vacuum cleaner to demonstrate centrifugal force.

James Dyson, designer of the Dyson vacuum cleaner, says he was motivated to inspire children by his own frustration at school. "I was given a choice: pursue either arts or sciences. There was no happy medium on offer for a boy who enjoyed solving problems and making things with his hands."

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