For the first time this year, the European Space Agency (ESA), opened up its annual Summer Teacher Workshop to primary school teachers. The Workshop was promoted in Ireland through ESERO (European Space Education Resource Office) Ireland and applications were welcomed from across the 22 ESA member states. Seven of the 50 (approx) places available on this pilot programme were secured by Irish primary school teachers from Dublin, Cork, Mayo, Tipperary and Waterford.
Primary Teacher group at ESA pictured left to right, Catherine Swords, Fionula Murphy, Richie Daly, Naoimh Riordan, Carla Hayes, Padraig Patten and Padraig Egan
The three day event focusing on bringing space to the classroom took place at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands from 8th to 10th July. This year the programme was built around five key topics: Gravity, Rosetta, Planet Earth, Light and Human Space Explorations. Lectures and workshops were delivered by space experts from around the world, including Dr Matt Taylor the Project Scientist who landed Rosetta, ESA’s Philae probe, on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last November.
After his address, Primary Teachers on the course conducted a number of experiments that involved comets and were based on the Rosetta mission. One of the highlights of that workshop involved testing a comet for water using custard.
Each theme was explored in the same way. Hands on demonstrations and “mini-missions” followed immediately from an address from a key-note speaker. Of course there was a little help from Paxi, ESA’s educational mascot, an “explorer” from another planet here to help children (and teachers) learn about space.
The final theme of the conference, Human Space Explorations, was introduced by Andre Kuipers, the first Dutch astronaut who returned to space for a second time. His latest mission is to bring more STEM learning and technology to every classroom. In his address to the Conference Kuipners referenced almost every subject on the primary school curriculum as he shared his inspiring story. From his training days at space centres in Houston, Moscow, Cologne and Tokyo to successfully completing two Soyuz missions to the ISS, Kuipers made reference to history, visual arts, geography, English, maths SPHE and of course science lessons. Afterwards primary teachers, assisted by Portuguese ESA educational experts, set up and conducted experiments to investigate food and space, including one that simulated the experience of eating in low gravity conditions.
Commenting on her involvement in the fascinating programme, Carla Hayes, a teacher at Bayside Junior School Sutton said “This week has exceeded my expectations. ESA’s new primary schools programme really brings space in the classroom to whole new level. It’s very child orientated and teacher friendly. I’m really looking forward to the next school year when, with the help of Paxi, I can begin to apply what I have learned to the benefit of the children”.
After three stimulating days, the teachers returned home with lots to think about and assimilate. Their task now is to share their knowledge with their students, colleagues and parents. They will continue to work with ESTEC Ireland to develop techniques to optimise children’s engagement with space in the primary classroom. The aim is “to inspire more children to develop an fascination with STEM subjects and to encourage them to continue their studies through second and third level education” Carla concluded.