Nottingham Trent University experts bring science message home to children by heading into space

Pay attention class! This really is rocket science. That's the message from education experts at Nottingham Trent University as they use space technology to boost science teaching.

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Professor Gren Ireson with pupils trying out the Space Case

Pay attention class! This really is rocket science...

That's the message from education experts at Nottingham Trent University as they use space technology to boost science teaching.

Working with the European Space Agency (ESA) they are developing the Space Case – a self-contained portable laboratory with everything pupils might need to test new materials that could be used to build the next generation of satellites.

Professor Gren Ireson and lecturers Mark Crowley and Sarah Hindmarsh, from Nottingham Trent University's School of Education, have just completed a pilot study as they strive to bring science to life for pupils aged 10 and 11 (Key Stage Two).

Children at Nottinghamshire's Bramcote Hills Primary School have been testing the prototype of the Space Case. It contains different metal alloys and equipment needed to establish if they could be suitable for satellite construction.

After an on-screen briefing from a genuine rocket scientist, pupils will test for properties including electrical and heat conductivity, magnetism, density and hardness, recording their results and reporting back on which materials would be best suited for the mission.

The idea has been prompted by ESA's AccMet (Accelerated Metallurgy) and AMAZE projects, which are developing new materials, including metal alloys, to use in satellite construction. Each alloy mix of metallic elements will have different properties.

Professor Ireson said: "This is a chance to expose children to real science – not just a test for the sake of it.

"Attitudes to science are often formed by the age of ten. If we are to have enough scientists in the future, it is vital we get them interested at 10 and 11. Waiting until they are taking their GCSEs and A levels could be too late.

"With the Space Case we can genuinely tell children they are taking part in space science. They might actually be among the first people to test some of these new alloys.

"Many alloys will need to be low density, heat resistant and conduct electricity, but others might need to be non-magnetic and extremely strong to prevent damage from space debris. These tests can establish the right alloy for a specific role."

Boosting interest in science reflects the Government's commitment to increase interest in so-called Stem subjects (Science, technology, engineering and maths) as the UK battles to maintain its global reputation for innovation and research.

Changes to the curriculum from September 2014 mean Key Stage Two pupils must also look at the history of science – particularly biographies of prominent scientists.

To support this, Professor Ireson and Mr Crowley have used computer software to develop an interactive virtual Michael Faraday – the pioneer of electricity and electro-magnetism.

"We plan to give children a chance to learn about science in new, meaningful and exciting ways," said Mr Crowley.

"Not only would we be raising awareness of the projects run by ESA and the UK Space Agency, we would also be helping many primary school teachers who do not have a science background and contributing to their continuing professional development."

Bramcote Hills Primary Year Five teachers Rosie Scott and Harriet Crossley said the Space Case was well received by the children who were excited by both the topic and the opportunity to engage in scientific problem-solving in a practical manner.

With the pilot project now complete, academics are already planning to take the Space Case on further missions, preparing more and more teachers for lift off.

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Nottingham Trent University experts bring science message home to children by heading into space

Published on 29 January 2014
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