Science - Stars in their eyes

16th March 2012 at 00:00
You can learn a lot about the universe using a mobile phone

The mobile phone appears to have become as essential to the average secondary school child as a sturdy rucksack and a pencil case. Although often branded as an unnecessary classroom fixture, the new generation of smartphones is opening up another dimension to learning.

There are several fantastic apps that allow pupils to become increasingly familiar with the night sky - and many young people possess a real interest in finding out more about space and what is beyond our planet.

Hold a phone up to a bright light in the clear sky and an app will reveal the identity of the star or planet, together with its relative position to other celestial bodies. It is a revelation to many pupils that we can see some of our solar system in the night sky and not just distant stars. Astronomers say March this year is one of the best times to do it, promising good views of Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Mercury.

It can also be a starting point for pupils to do more research. The recent BBC Stargazing Live series of programmes hosted by Professor Brian Cox and Dara O Briain helped to bring astronomy into the living rooms of families around the country and prompted discussion in schools. Clips from similar programmes are available in the BBC's Learning Zone, including excellent short clips from Cox's Wonders of the Universe.

Space lessons can be brought to life using internet clips, whether of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon or the launch of one of the space shuttle missions.

Another exercise could be to have pupils research the astronomical thinking of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. Looking at the observations and theories of astronomers such as Ptolemy, Copernicus and Galileo is a great way to illustrate how theories are formed from observation, but change or develop over time as scientific knowledge and equipment improves.

Pupils should be excited by space and reminded that they are living in a wonderful time in terms of space exploration. Encourage them to look up, get them thinking more deeply about the galaxy and urge them to ask more questions.

Andrew Lochery is managing director at Green APL Education and has taught science and chemistry in several state and independent schools in Greater Manchester. Follow him on Twitter @GreenAPLEd

What else?

Who is the greatest scientific investigator of all time? Copernicus and Galileo are pitted against each other in a BBC quiz show.

Explore the differences between our neighbouring planets with cressida- bowden's solar system top trumps.

From Ptolemy to the Big Bang, Solene_01 covers all your astronomy needs in a lengthy presentation.

Find all links and resources at

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