Thursday 15 February 2018

New IPC unit - Space Scientists


Space Scientists is a new 3 week science focused unit which forms part of our new curriculum content launch this Spring.

We caught up with the writer of the unit, Nina Filipek to learn more about Nina's experience with Space Scientists, having previously written and contributed to over 50 IPC units.

How is this unit different to other IPC units focused on space?

Space Scientists is a shorter, focused 3-week science unit, including 2 technology tasks and 2 international tasks. The emphasis is more on enquiry-based learning and encourages children to think as scientists do, as opposed to the more fact-finding approach of the other units.

This new unit is written from the perspective of Earth, and what we can learn about our planet by studying space. We wanted to emphasise the connectivity between Earth and space, e.g. finding out how the Moon influences the tides on Earth. Discovering more about space helps us discover more about Earth, and vice versa.

 Each task focuses on an open-ended or ‘big’ question for the children to investigate. A big question is one which is open and requires more depth of thought than a closed question, which usually asks for a single, factual answer. For example, the question: ‘Has anyone ever landed on Mars?’ requires a simple yes/no answer; whereas, a big question would be ‘If you were planning a trip to Mars what would you need to consider?’ There is no single answer to this question; it crosses many areas and children can approach it at their own ability level.

I looked at Powell and Kulsuma-Powell - Making the Difference in International Schools - who said that these higher-order questions

“have embedded in them enduring understandings”

and that the most successful questions

“are ones that we took as teachers into the classroom without knowing the answer ourselves.”

Describe an exciting resource that you’ve included in this unit

I have utilised the fantastic resource that is the NASA TV education website. Up until relatively recently, space was a difficult topic for many children to grasp. Space is so far away, and with no possibility of direct experience, it is hard to get a sense of what space is really like. All of this changed with the International Space Station and NASA TV, which provides live video footage direct from the International Space Station. By using this unique resource, teachers can sustain children’s interest in the topic and maximise learning. 

While studying the unit, you may like to nominate a different child each day to check in with the livestream video and report back to the class, or you could use the video footage as a stimulation for literacy work, such as a poetry response.

What do you think learners will enjoy about this unit?

There is something in the unit for all abilities and preferences, including audio and visual elements, factual information, and more abstract and philosophical concepts. Children will be amazed to find out about the sheer size and scale of everything to do with space. For example, we talk about the Sun as being one million times bigger than Earth, about the billions of stars in the Milky Way and about the trillions of other galaxies in the vastness of space. If the numbers are mind-boggling and exciting, the concepts are even more so.

What do you think teachers will enjoy about this unit?

 Scientists who study space are continually making new discoveries. As teachers, we can admit that we don’t know everything there is to know about space and, with so much still to find out, the potential for future learning is immense. Compare this with learning about the parts of a flower. When we know the names of the parts and what their function is, our learning is complete but with space as a topic our learning doesn’t stop, it continues to grow with each new phase of space exploration as we travel farther into the Universe.

 Throughout the unit, we travel from Earth to space and back again, which helps the children to recognise what our planet is made up of and why certain physical features exist. For example, if the children know how volcanoes are formed on Earth, they can look for evidence of volcanoes on other planets and know where they are most likely to find volcanic activity and why.

 While this unit covers a huge number of learning goals, the emphasis that you need to give to each of these goals will vary, depending on the children’s prior knowledge. You will be drawing on prior knowledge when you cover concepts in this unit, such as the Earth’s magnetism. Where learning goals have been included in other earlier units, children will be consolidating as well as extending their learning. The aim of this Milepost 3 unit is to really stretch children’s understanding and ability to think critically and creatively. 

Can you give some examples of the “Fascinating facts” that help underpin learning with the unit?

Fancy moving to Mars? It may be a one-way ticket, but scientists are seriously talking about this as a possibility in the future and a strategy for human survival in the long-term.

 We are looking to space to help us solve problems on Earth. For example, what we’ve learnt about growing vegetables in space can now be used and applied to growing vegetables in arid areas on planet Earth.

 With space technology advancing so rapidly, it is not ridiculous to imagine that a child in today’s class might one day be involved in space exploration. Our internationally-minded children will understand the importance of cooperation between countries, as opposed to competition. Nobody owns space but those who have the most to invest in technology and exploration hold the key to all our futures. 

 We live on a small and fragile planet in an eco-system that reaches far out into space and the wider Universe. We need to understand more about Earth and our place in space to secure all our futures … and your class are our future space scientists.

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