Physics - Astronaut chat launches pupils' ambitions

3rd October 2008 at 01:00
Most schools encourage pupils to aim high. At Michael Sobell Sinai Primary in Harrow, north-west London, children were encouraged to aim for outer space this week.

For 20 minutes, Years 5 and 6 held a teleconference with an astronaut aboard Nasa's international space station.

Greg Chamitoff, who is serving a six-month tour in space, answered a series of questions posed by the pupils, including queries about what he could see from the window of the station, what the earth looks like from space and how astronauts go to the toilet.

Vivienne Orloff, the school's head, said: "He talked about how one of the astronauts couldn't wash her hair from May to December. Those are the sort of things that children will remember."

Dr Chamitoff also revealed that, on his return to earth, he will be carried off the space shuttle in a stretcher as his body will be unused to gravity. And he told pupils that he hopes holidays on the moon will be possible during his lifetime.

The teleconference also included a virtual tour of the space capsule, using an on-board video camera.

"You could have heard a pin drop," said Mrs Orloff. "There were 180 children sitting there and they were completely silent."

Lessons about the earth, moon and sun form part of the Year 5 curriculum. But following the teleconference, pupils from both year groups immediately began using the internet to research the limits of the known universe. The teleconference also led to a range of cross-curricular activities: pupils wrote articles about it for the school newsletter, and thank you letters to the astronaut. "We wanted to bring learning alive," said Mrs Orloff. "We're hoping it will stick in their minds for ever."

Daniel Niessen, 9, said: "I'm more excited now about learning about the planets. It will make me think about the astronaut's life when I learn about the moon and the stars." Classmate Claudia Cowan said: "I'd like to be an astronaut. The whole going-to-space thing must be quite difficult. But it would be quite fun to actually look at what you've learnt about in school."

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