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You would have had to be in another galaxy to miss hearing about Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station earlier this year! With his regular reports back to earth he inspired a whole new generation of scientists and engineers with his remarkable journey into space.
Yet even though inspiring space content has been taken out of the GCSE science programme of study, that doesn’t mean we should lose these topics altogether – they can still act as engaging contexts to set the scene. Space science, in particular, is still an exciting feature of physics teaching.
Having been a physics teacher for six years before joining OCR, I know the impact on engagement that space science has. It has the ability to inspire awe across all ability ranges. So I was disappointed to see that space science is now only present as a small section in the separate Physics in the new science GCSEs. This means that learners studying Combined Science will not have the opportunity to study space science.
But never fear, there are still plenty of ways you can use space as a context within the Combined Science course. Here are some links to my favourite space science education sites, and some top ideas for using space as a context in teaching.
The National Space Academy’s ESA Teach With Space website has some great ideas for practical work you can do to link the idea of space with other aspects of the Science programme of study. The link leads you to video demonstrations of each practical activity. Among my favourites are Gravity Wells and the Whoosh Bottle.
Probably the easiest way to link the context of space within your science teaching is with the use of rockets and Newton’s laws. The Whoosh Bottle is an excellent demonstration, bound to amaze and engage your learners. Link this to action–reaction and the application of this concept in rocket science and it will be a lesson your learners remember.
The Gravity Well can also be used in teaching Newton’s laws, as well as gravitational fields. Linking the ideas to orbital parameters gives a nice context for learners to grasp and the practical demonstration helps learners to visualise gravity, a concept that can prove difficult.
The European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO) has a great website full of teaching resources to aid the teaching of space in science. My personal favourite is “We are Aliens”. This set of resources uses the context of space to teach aspects of the physics, chemistry and biology curriculum, and it includes practicals, worksheets and videos.
So in summary, what I am trying to say is: Stay calm and teach space science! You can still use space as a context to keep your learners inspired and breed a love of physics.
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Michelle Spiller - Subject Specialist - GCSE Science
Michelle has been one of the Science Subject Specialists at OCR since September 2014. She is a Physics specialist working in the GCSE team, who was involved in the reform of the two GCSE science suites. Before starting her role at OCR she was a teacher of secondary and A Level science with a Physics specialism in Essex and Hertfordshire for six years. In her spare time Michelle loves spending time with her two young children, reading and making clothes.