Launch pad for some difficult ideas

24th October 1997 at 01:00
Lift-Off to Learning, Series of eight videos from NASA. All with teacher's notes and pupil material Complete set Pounds 140 single videos Pounds 25, From the Early Learning Company, Age Range: 9-16

Travel in space has many more links to the national science curriculum than one might imagine. The effects of space travel on the human body, for example, provides a useful starting point for considering the various systems of the body, how they work, and how they maintain a balance (homeostasis) under unusual conditions.

The physics components of the curriculum such as forces and motion, mass and inertia, gravity, speed and acceleration have an obvious connection with space travel. Chemistry has fewer links but this series of videos manages to bring out connections with the atmosphere, carbon cycle and oceanic evolution. All these links are shown on a large curriculum chart which comes with the pack, and are reinforced by the printed materials provided for both teachers and pupils.

The Early Learning Company, which brought this series of videos from across the Atlantic, has deliberately tied it to the national curriculum. The videos are American, but that is not to say they won't be of any use in the classroom - the accent is soon overshadowed by some fascinating clips of film aboard the Space Shuttle.

Space Basics, for example, sets out to explain the idea of an orbit and the feeling of weightlessness that those on board a Shuttle experience. This is an extremely difficult concept to explain but the American astronaut in this video does an excellent job. The idea that everyone in the Shuttle is "falling around the Earth" is conveyed clearly with good use of animation and analogy. The video stresses that Shuttle travellers are not in a position of "zero gravity" - if they were, they would not be in orbit. After all, they are only 160 miles above the Earth. If teachers were to buy just one video, this is the one I would recommend as it gets across some difficult and badly taught concepts both clearly and correctly.

Other videos in the series also manage this, particularly All Systems Go which helps explain why an astronaut's face puffs up and his legs shrink. Such tricky concepts as why the heart first swells, then shrinks, then goes back to normal during space travel are also explained (the answers are to do with body fluids in "weightless" conditions).

Toys in Space raises some interesting questions about forces, mass, momentum and motion. This will appeal to key stage three as well as key stage four learners, but the concepts are no less difficult for being illustrated by toys.

Indeed, this pack is attempting to teach some of the most difficult and powerful ideas of physics - concepts which required the genius of Isaac Newton to unravel. It is a valuable package which will work well for teachers.

The eight videos in the pack are: Newton in Space; All Systems Go; Space Basics; Endeavour; Toys in Space; A and B; Go for Eva and Atmosphere Below. Available from The Early Learning Company, Winfrith, Dorset DT2 8LL. Tel: 01305 853508

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