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Space Science at NAIS Pudong

April, 2016
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If people looked into the sky over Nord Anglia International School, Pudong (NAIS Pudong) around midday on 19 March, they might have noticed some UFOs launching into the sky and plummeting dramatically to earth. These “rockets” were just part of the educational fun at the Astronaut Science workshops held at NAIS Pudong, with visiting scientists from the UK National Space Academy.

Fifty lucky students from Years 5-9 had the chance to do some hands-on learning about space science, including a range of exciting and often noisy experiments like rocket launches. For the experiment, students first built their own rockets using simple materials, and then simulated a real-life countdown and take-off, with some rockets flying more than 50 meters into the air. How do we know it was that far? The experiments weren’t just for fun; students also learnt how to calculate the distance travelled using a simple equation.

The Astronaut Science Workshop was led by Judith Green, a Physics and Chemistry teacher and member of the UK National Space Academy who, among other accolades, was selected to present Teacher Masterclasses at NASA’s 2009 Space Exploration Educators Conference at the Johnson Space Centre in Texas. Green revealed many of the “secrets” of the universe during the two-hour workshop, as well as some of the messier aspects of space travel, such as how astronauts use the toilet.

Students also explored UV radiation and ignited their own rockets.  The inspiring and eye-opening workshop ended with a question and answer session, with the inquisitive junior scientists posing questions like “What’s the difference between a black hole and a white hole?” to Green and the Academy team.

The National Space Academy is the education arm of the UK space program, which recently devised some of the experiments being conducted by Commander Tim Peake – the first British astronaut on the International Space Station.

The Astronaut Science Workshop was part of a three-day program from 17 to 19 March, which saw leading educators led by Anu Ojha, Director of the UK’s National Space Academy program and a Director of the National Space Centre, working with NAIS Pudong teachers and students, as well as invited students and teachers from a few local High Schools and other international schools in Shanghai. 

img_0048In addition to hands-on experiments, the visiting scientists also gave special Space Science Masterclasses to teachers and IB students on 17 and 18 March. The students rotated among three separate sessions –Physics presented by Anu; Chemistry by Judith Green; and Biology by Chris Carr, biologist and environmental scientist who leads teacher training and student masterclasses for the UK Astrobiology Summer Academy.

Year 10 student Lukas was thrilled to attend these sessions.  “I expected it to be more theory-based, more history and maybe a few practicals but nothing like building a comet. Everything was very interesting, but the coolest was building a comet, the history of comets, and the theory that they could have been the source of life,” he said. IB student Ashley Fung also found the masterclass exceeded her expectations: “Before attending these sessions, I didn’t realize that Physics could be that interesting, and I didn’t realize Chemistry can be related to rocket building, the fuel and everything. It’s all related. You have to have all these skills in order to go to space.”

The three-day program certainly achieved its objective of igniting student interest in space science, and it proved to be inspirational to the teachers as well. Teachers attended the masterclasses and workshop agreed that they not only learnt ideas and experiments they can do and demonstrate with students in the classroom, but also learnt some ways to link space to the concepts taught.

The program is part of the international collaboration in space science education between the UK and China. As stated by Nicky Morgan, UK Secretary of State for Education: “It is a significant milestone in the ongoing strategic partnership between the UK and China in space science and in science education – and we are delighted to have the opportunity to work towards the development of further international science education programs in the future for the benefit of students, teachers and science industries in both the UK and China.”

By Catherine Deng

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