Scientix and Space part I. – Hands-on activities related to space exploration in pre-school and secondary school

This post originally appeared on the Scientix blog.

Teaching space science in secondary school can be challenging, while on the other hand, students feel a special attraction towards hands-on activities; they find it empowering when causing a reaction in an experiment or suddenly grasping a science concept. It gives students confidence as learners and is, at the same time, a funny way to learn. In this article, we present some ways that you can follow in order to introduce hands-on experiments related to space exploration.

In a first step, the ISS (International Space Station) can be a good starting point to introduce these activities. The ISS is one of the most challenging laboratories ever set up, and can be easily observable from our homes, by simply knowing when and where to look towards. Click here if you would like to access the NASA sightingsThen, three activities can be developed, as follows.

Aeronautic Space Area Practice-Space

The aim of this activity is to encourage the education of children by their parents. Encourage parents to prepare activities, which can help their children with their experience, or to learn interesting things about science. The workshop is designed for carrying out activities so that there is a minimal difference between the parent and the child and they are equal partners. This makes children more open to receive information as the parent does not act as a teacher. This is how parents learn the best approach to their children to achieve the best cooperation, which could be utilized for home tutoring or other forms of education.

Easy rockets

Spaceships move through the air and space. They cannot be supported by anything there, so how do they manage to move? Thanks to rockets. These devices mix liquids that they carry in their tanks, and large amounts of gas are formed that are expelled at great speed. When the gases exit backwards they push the rocket forwards, propelling it. Let’s explore how rockets work!

Sky-high science: building rockets at school

With this activity, students will try to build the best possible rocket. Before attempting to build their rocket, they should explore and discuss how the shape, dimensions and materials used will affect the range, apogee and time of travel of the rocket. After the activity, a new dimension of discussion, re-modelling and evaluation can be explored, with students discussing their individual results with the whole class and seeing which methods and models worked better and why. Furthermore, they can try to improve their model and re-test their hypotheses.

Another approach to space can be done in different interactive spaces located all over the world. The following are between the most recommended:

Euro Space Center is a science museum and educational tourist attraction located in Transinne (Libin), near Redu in Belgium. It is devoted to space science and astronautics. The centre includes simulators of space flight and micro-gravity.

The Cité de l’espace (City of Space) is a theme park focused on space and the conquest of space. It was opened in June 1997 and is located on the eastern outskirts of Toulouse, France.

The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, also called the NASM, is a museum in Washington, D.C.. It is the second most visited museum in the world, and the most visited museum in the United States. The museum contains the Apollo 11 command module, the Friendship 7 capsule which was flown by John Glenn, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1 which broke the sound barrier, and the Wright brothers’ plane near the entrance.

The Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics  (Russian: Государственный музей истории космонавтики имени К.Э.Циолковского) is the first museum in the world dedicated to the history of space exploration. It was opened on 3 October 1967 in Kaluga, and is named after Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a school master and rocket science pioneer who lived most of his life in this city.

There are hands-on activities about space in pre-school, too. For decades research has shown that hands-on learning at preschool is best. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)—the world’s largest organization of early childhood professionals—says a quality early childhood education is one in which “Children are given opportunities to learn and develop through exploration and play…materials and equipment spark children’s interest and encourage them to experiment and learn.”

Hands-on learning at preschool simply means the children are active learners throughout the day: exploring with materials, learning by doing, moving throughout the classroom, and interacting with one another. The teacher acts as a facilitator— not by telling the children what to do with the materials— but by asking questions that challenge them to use them in new and creative ways. A teacher skilled at hands-on learning will often begin her inquiries with how: How can you build that bigger without it falling? How can you make sure those plants grow healthy? How can you all play together so everyone has a turn?

The Scientix Resource Repository is a good starting point for hands-on experiments related to space exploration. These three activities can be used in pre-school space exploration.

Lunar Day

Materials: Two paper plates (10 inches – 25.4 cm), A4 printouts of the Moon and the Earth (attachments), scissors, glue, elastic bands, Internet access.

Goals: To demonstrate why the Moon always keeps the same face towards Earth. To determine the length of the lunar day.

Learning Objectives: Children mimic the Earth-Moon system, one representing the Earth and the other representing the Moon. As the children swing around each other, they will notice that the Moon always keeps the same face towards the Earth.

They should also learn that the Earth and Moon rotate at different rates: once a day for the Earth and once every 29.5 days for the Moon.

Evaluation: By asking questions about the Earth-Moon system:

  • What did the other students notice about the Earth as the pair swung around?
  • What did the child who was impersonating the Earth notice about the Moon as the pair swung around?
  • Can the students explain why the length of a lunar day is 29.5 Earth days?
  • The Earth shows different aspects to the Moon. Can the students describe what happens?

Creating Asteroids

Star Hats

Have a happy learning!

The images included in this article belong to the the author.

Authors: Merve AKYOL & Javier Redondas

Scientix Ambassadors