How to become a Solar System tourist guide

My childhood dream of travelling to the stars does not seem quite so impossible anymore. Wondering what lies beyond the clouds and hoping to explore beyond the boundaries of our planet is a reality for our pupils. The challenge is how to convince them that the lessons learned in school are relevant to future job opportunities and the fulfilment of their dreams. As a mathematics teacher in a lower secondary school, motivating my grade 5 pupils to embrace and overcome the complexities mathematics offers is a daily task.

This year I decided to spend some of my lessons combining mathematics with other subjects while at the same time teaching my pupils that there is a universe of possibilities awaiting them beyond the classroom. Teaching them to think big and dream big. Along with two fellow Scientix ambassadors Maja Mačinko and Anita Čorak I put together an ambitious learning scenario titled: ‘How to become a Solar System tourist guide’. The three of us teach in different cities and come from different backgrounds so I expected the end result would be interesting.

In order to become a tourist guide for the Solar System, many skills and competencies are needed. Several can be taught in schools. Before achieving a special licence to become a tourist guide, our pupils had to learn about the history of space travel. We spent a wonderful lesson researching and investigating the men and women who contributed to the space programme in years gone by. What was the name of the first satellite? What animals travelled to space? These questions and many others sparked the curiosity of our students.

History is necessary because the past helps us prepare for the future. Good knowledge of geography and astronomy is also needed. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out on which planet we would be the youngest? Would we want to live on that planet?

Mathematical knowledge is essential, among other things, to calculate the distance from Earth to each planet and the time taken to travel between planets. This is the perfect opportunity to revise our knowledge on units of measurement. However, we needed to include a physics lesson for our young pupils. Imagine if you are a sportsperson and want to run and jump on the Moon. How would you calculate the height of your jump or speed in a 100 metres race? This depends on the gravity of course. While we didn’t run or jump on the Moon, we did run in our school playgrounds and jumped in our PE halls. Calculating the median of several jumps and runs enabled us to compare our statistics with each other and the fastest men, women, and animals on Earth.

Without technology and engineering, there would be no space travel. Teaching pupils the basics of programming in Scratch with a NASA selfie was not only educational but fun. The aim was to also pique their interest in programming and Scratch was the perfect tool for younger children. Teamwork, collaboration, and logical thinking were all skills that were practised. For those children who found aspects daunting, there was always an option of expressing themselves through art. The results of their work formed a brilliant school exhibition.

The engineering task of building a replica of the robot arm from the International Space Station was the final challenge. In this day and age when children are not used to applying fine motor skills, it was a joy to watch them undertake this activity. Cutting, glueing, assembling a robot arm with the purpose of learning what it feels to be like an astronaut in space trying to grab something. Students developed an understanding of engineering design and of the roles of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem-solving. They truly became engineers.

All these lessons were successful in motivating our pupils to delve deeper into space exploration and to apply previous and new knowledge to real-world problems. The task we then faced was presenting our learning scenario to our peers at the biggest Croatian EDtech conference, CUC, while at the same time promoting Scientix.

The Croatian Academy Research Network (CARNET) users conference (CUC) is an annual autumn gathering of CARNET users and associates. These include primary and high school teachers, faculty professors, system engineers and coordinators, members of the scientific research community, as well as IT professionals and business people from areas of information and communication technology. The conference represents a platform for the exchange of information, knowledge and experience and the development of cooperation between people who have access to ICT, primarily the Internet, and its associated advanced forms of use, primarily in education, using modern pedagogical approaches. It is attended by ministers from the Education department and international speakers as well.

This year the conference was held in Šibenik and lasted for three days from the 27th to the 29th of October. Šibenik also happens to be the birthplace of Faust Vrančić the famous polymath and inventor. My fellow Scientix ambassadors Anita Čorak, Maja Mačinko and I held a 90-minute workshop in which all attendees discovered Scientix and participated in activities connected to our learning scenario. Our enthusiastic participants were given a taster of five activities and all managed to achieve the status of Solar System tourist guide.

This experience served to prove that Scientix is an open community that brings STEM to the classroom and beyond. Whose core values reside in the sharing of good classroom practice and making sure that students are equipped with the skills needed to become successful adults.

A selection of pictures is the author’s own (Attribution CC-BY)

Anita Šimac is a mathematics teacher and teacher mentor in Osnovna škola Petra Preradovića, Zadar, Croatia. A Scientix ambassador for Croatia since 2016. Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, National Geographic Certified Educator and STEM project enthusiast.