Using the stars to inspire inner space

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Students' fascination with the universe makes it an ideal subject to study across the sciences, Becky Parker says

If you live in an area of darkish skies then it's really easy to become passionate about space. Call it straightforward, but I always set my key stage 3 students a homework task of going out and really looking up at the night sky. It's surprising how many pupils haven't done this before and I'm yet to find a student of any age who isn't amazed when they start thinking about what they're looking at. I'm not just talking about Mars and the Milky Way, but the unfathomable scale of it all and the increasing number of stars that can be seen.

This is why I suggest a hearty helping of space fairly regularly in secondary school, because it's a good context in which to base a number of topics across the sciences and there are often events in the news that can generate interest. The Beagle 2 mission is an example of this (see page 4 and websites below) and news can also easily be picked up from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council website www.pparc.ac.uk

One recent story covered by the site was the discovery of galaxies about 12,600 million light years from Earth - so far that it has taken the light about nine-tenths of the age of the universe to cover the huge distance.

Space makes up a significant chunk of the national curriculum from KS2 to KS4. It starts off as a basic study of the Earth, Moon and Sun, then involves planets, stars and artificial satellites, followed by other constituents of the universe, such as black holes, the origin of the universe and the search for extraterrestrial life.

Space also gives scope for scientific enquiry, such as looking at the evidence for different models about the position of the Earth within the universe. You can be assured of a lively discussion about whether life exists outside Earth. Your students can also take part in the global search for extraterrestrial intelligence through the SETI website http:setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu. This gives you details about how to join SETI@home which, by installing a screensaver, allows your computer to contribute to the analysis of data.

Another way of working space into the curriculum is to follow Beagle 2 via the Mars Express page of the European Space Agency website www.sci.esa.intmarsexpress. Your pupils can spend Christmas watching the Mars landing.

Resources

NASA www.nasa.gov

The British National Space Centre's learning zone www.bnsc.gov.uk

The Space Telescope Science Institute's educational activities section has useful material that includes the NASA's Origins Education Programme www.stsci.eduresources

The Hubble Space Telescope http:hubblesite.org

Space Place has many games and activities http:spaceplace.jpl.nasa.govindex.shtml

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