St. Stephen’s Space Station

This week in the Science Room, Year 5 and Year 6 have been having a ‘blast’ with Mrs. McGregor, our Scientist-in-Residence, studying Outer Space. They have been reviewing the solar system and learning more about the enormity of the universe and how scientists are working to learn more about the universe with telescopes, robots, and space stations. Looking specifically at the International Space Station (ISS), Year 5 and Year 6 have had a peek inside the life of the astronauts on board with some videos of daily life made by the astronauts themselves as well as a speedy tour made by a cosmonaut following a very fast-talking astronaut as they pushed their floating selves though the different modules that make up the station. We also learned about how the European Space Agency is working on plans to create a permanent space station on the moon and thought about how the Y5 and Y6 students might contribute to it as future astronauts and earth-bound space scientists and engineers. There is so much still to discover and understand, and so much technology and design that will be required to allow humans to explore further reaches of outer space.

The first half of the workshop focused on information input from a collection of books on space and a few videos. In the second half of the workshop, the students set about to create cardboard portions of a prototype St. Stephen’s Space Station. While some worked on updated versions the existing personal life support systems that are part of the space suits astronauts wear on their space walks, others imagined a future in which antimatter machines and neutralisers might be useful. Some constructed the structural storage rooms of the station while others worked on the specific requirements of a treadmill for exercise (with requisite harness so that they are able to run, as they would otherwise float away!), and the ever-necessary toilet with its critical harness and vacuum system to ensure nothing floats away there either!

Ms. McGregor reported that working with the 10 groups of students that came through the room over the course of the week was a ‘huge treat’ for her. ‘I continue to be impressed and surprised both by the knowledge and questions the students bring to the room, and by the curiosity, creativity, persistence, friendly collaboration, and resourcefulness with which the students approach the cardboard construction activity. Not only do they walk into the room with a great array of information about outer space, but each workshop provides a new batch of exciting strategies for what to build and how to build it. These students are practicing the real-world work of scientists and engineers who must experiment through iterations of frustration to arrive at workable solutions.’ She mentioned the way that students go through quick cycles of experimentation as they work to connect pieces of their construction, collecting evidence with each trial that they use as the basis of their reasoning and further revision of strategy as they try again to find a workable solution. This might just look like a lot of taping and re-taping, but there’s observation, inference, and building and refining understanding going on right there,’ she said. As for the finished product, Mrs. McGregor is keen to focus on the work and thought that went into the constructions the students build. ‘Often a student’s idea is simply too big for the space, time, and resources available in the workshop.’ As such, she works to use the ‘share out’ time at the end to emphasise the thinking behind their construction, what problems they encountered and solution they developed during the process, and the question of what they would do next if they had more time.

Speaking of next, next term Mrs. McGregor will be back for the Summer Term Science Week, as she will run a version of the outer space workshop with Year 3 and Year 4 in May. In the meantime, if you have the chance to speak with a Year 5 or Year 6 student about their Science Week workshop, be sure to ask them what they learned  and what space construction they would want to work on next.