This is rocket science

20th June 2008 at 01:00
After the Sats can be a difficult time to get pupils motivated, so we undertook a two-week Year 9 science project that included English and maths
Stuck for ideas to fill that tricky gap after Sats? A book about a trip into space did it for Theresa Gooda and her class

After the Sats can be a difficult time to get pupils motivated, so we undertook a two-week Year 9 science project that included English and maths.

Studying a short story in a morning English lesson paved the way for a dramatic experiment in science in the afternoon, with the necessary calculations made during a mid-morning maths class.

The story was The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, first published in Astounding Magazine in 1954. The plot revolves around a stowaway on board a rocket ship delivering emergency medical supplies to Woden, a frontier planet. Once discovered, the pilot realised there was not enough fuel for both of them to reach their destination, so Marilyn, the stowaway, had to be jettisoned into space.

As well as looking at stylistic features of the text during English, pupils explored this moral dilemma and extended their debate to ethical questions about the colonisation of space.

In science, they experimented with water rockets, learning how the basics of rocketry were dependent on Newton's third law of motion - every action has an equal and opposite reaction. They built and tested an "egg lander", a vessel designed to land safely from a height of three floors without breaking the egg inside.

They also designed a spaceship calculating the volume of living space available to the crew and identifying the equipment required, including an acceleration couch, urine-recycler, exercise machines and food storage containers.

The maths classes included trajectory calculations and scaling their plans for the spaceship. They also learnt how to use a clinometer to calculate distance and measure the maximum height a model rocket can reach.

One keystone of the project was a trip to the BFI IMAX cinema on the Southbank in London to watch the 3-D film, Space Station, which allowed us to experience space travel and the intricacies of working and living in zero gravity.

Theresa Gooda is co-head of English at the Holy Trinity Church of England Secondary School in Crawley, West Sussex.

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