Forty teachers from 17 European countries attended the 4th European Space Agency (ESA) Summer Teacher Workshop from 21-25 July at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, Netherlands.
Most of them were secondary school teachers using holiday time to meet colleagues from all over Europe. The event was a significant opportunity to develop new skills and quality tools to better teach their students science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM education).
“ESA has a mission: using space as a context to inspire and enable European students of all ages to enhance their literacy in sciences and technology and help them prepare for their future professional careers in these fields, the space domain, in particular,” said Monica Talevi from the ESA Education and Knowledge Office.
Space, a great source of inspiration for students
The education programme within ESA is a mandatory one, that member states must contribute to, she added: “They must invest in education.”
She also told participants that “space is a modern myth. Dinosaurs and space appeal to children. You will meet with space experts and follow experiments by experts to bring space into classrooms. What we teach in the classroom is not just theoretical, it is important to show students that we bring a link to real life via space. It is nice, fun and it is relevant. Bring this enthusiasm back to your students and schools!”
‘ESA is concerned about sustaining the interest of students, especially girls, in the sciences,’ Talevi said.
She also noted that there is a widespread need in Europe for new teaching methods in science subjects, and ESA is a source of unique and multidisciplinary science knowledge.
‘ESA has a collaborative dimension between its 20 member states, which is a good example for children,’ she insisted.
She also explained that “for school students and teachers: space is the context. For university students and teachers: space is the subject.”
ESERO and ESA workshops for quality teachers
Talevi described the European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO) project, ESA’s main way of supporting the primary and secondary education community in Europe. The project helps to stimulate young people’s awareness of Europe’s space programme and of its importance for modern society and economy.
Currently ESA has established seven ESERO national offices which cover 10 ESA Member States: Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and the UK. This network supports primary and secondary STEM education using space as a theme: teacher training, hands-on projects, classroom resources, etc. It also offers an annual series of national or regional training sessions for primary and secondary school teachers. These are offered in collaboration with national partners which are already active in STEM education.
It also uses and disseminates existing ESA/ESERO space-related STEM classroom resources, and if appropriate, develops specific new resources tailored to the national curricula. Real space data and the application of real-life scientific methodology, accompanied by the role model support of space experts such as scientists and astronauts, are used as much as possible.
Apart from the annual summer teacher workshop, ESA also leads an independent Galileo teacher training programme (GTTP). Initiated during 2009’s International Year of Astronomy, and named after the famous 17th century Italian astronomer and physicist, the GTTP continues to train teachers across Europe, through workshops. The emphasis is on introducing science teachers to the resources that can be used to teach astronomy and astrophysics. The programme also aims to help teachers inspire young people to consider science careers, by gaining new skills that will enhance their teaching methods and refresh existing lessons.
There are also ESA classroom resources on topics such as the solar system and the Universe, the Earth and the Environment, astronauts and the International Space Station (ISS), and rockets and technology resources.
Secondary and university students can take part in a CanSat competition, through a simulation of a real satellite, integrated within the volume and shape of a regular soft drink can. This is an opportunity to experience a real space mission starting with design, through integration, testing, launching, data analysis, and presentation of results.
For early childhood educators, ESA Kids and its mascot Paxi, an explorer from another planet, provide great tools to attract children’s attention to STEM disciplines.
Developing quality tools
Teachers also engaged in workshops about using space as a context for teaching many subjects. Space experts, both from within ESA and outside, guided them through mainly hands-on practical workshop sessions.
On the first day, for example, the teachers learned how to use scientific archives and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory’s data in the classroom, accessing real scientific images of the sun.
During another session, demonstrations were held on carrying sound on a light beam, a wireless link between a VCR and a TV set, simulating microgravity in the classroom, or simulating the solar wind.
Participants were called on to conduct experiments on the effect of the low temperature on electric circuits, the effect of the solar wind on radio communication, investigating the physics behind the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU, i.e. spacesuit) battery, the behaviour of liquids in microgravity, the effects of temperature on mechanical properties, checking for overexposure to UV radiation, and checking the pressure inside the EMU.
Teachers are knowledge multipliers
The second day was dedicated to comets.
“Studying comets is beneficial for teachers, because it links chemistry, physics, and biology,” said Sophie Allan, National Space Academy physics teacher. Allan works at the UK National Space Centre in Leicester and teaches physics at secondary level as part of the Space Engineering course taught in partnership with the Loughborough College.
UK teacher Sophie Allan on ESA Summer Teacher Workshop:
She showed teachers how to make students cook their own comets, with dry ice (frozen CO2), water, carbon powder, sand, wine and fish sauce!
Participants also learned how to use software showing the consequences of a comet falling on Earth and the damage it can cause, depending on the speed and the degree at which it enters the Earth’s atmosphere and its internal composition (ice, rock, etc.).
They also learned that they can book a time slot with their classes and ask a giant telescope to scrutinise and take pictures of a particular corner of the Milky Way and possibly notice an object moving which will turn out to be a comet. Teachers can then ask students to determine the speed of this celestial object while it is crossing the universe.
German teacher Bernhard Sturm on ESA Summer Teacher Workshop:
They also learned on the third day about ways to teach about life and experiments on board the International Space Station (ISS) and the European comet chaser, Rosetta, which will orbit and land on the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko later this year.
Czech teacher Petr Mares on ESA Summer Teacher Workshop:
UK teacher Anu Ojha on ESA Summer Teacher Workshop:
“I am a mathematics and physics teacher in a secondary school in Italy and, for me, a quality school puts the student first and keeps the student’s interests and abilities at heart to reinforce his or her will to learn,” commented one teacher. The tools provided by ESA will help her in this endeavour.
“You are multipliers!” stressed former ESA astronaut Reinhold Ewald during his keynote speech on “Human spaceflight – past, 2014, future” in the last session of the workshop. ‘Why do we leave Earth?’ he asked. To him, the European space programme led by ESA is consistent with travels undertaken by former great European discoverers.
Former ESA astronaut Reinhold Ewald on Education:
More information can be found on the ESA website