What an amazing day we had at MMU on Wednesday, courtesy of Clare Pheasey and her team. What an incredible opportunity for our KS2 children to experience at first-hand, life on a university campus.
The main purpose of the day was to launch the Train like an Astronaut element of our Out of This World project and we were lucky enough to be joined by Heather MacRae, who runs the event on behalf of the UK Space Agency. However, the day was much more than that – it was to demonstrate to our Rode Heath children what they could aspire to, through hard work and commitment to their learning.
The events started, for the Year 6 and 5 pupils, with a series of tours around the campus where they had the opportunity to interact with real students and ask them questions about university life. Most intriguing for some of the Y5s seemed to be the fact that you had to pay to do your own laundry.
Following that we were invited to a lecture room where we listened to Dr Stephen Lynch talk about robots. He entertained us with a series of video clips showing various examples of robotic technology, including a robotic fish that is used to measure pollution and the Lego CubeStormer which can solve a Rubik’s cube in 5 seconds.
The children listened, spellbound, as they learned about Robonaut, the first dexterous humanoid robot in space and the first US-built robot on the ISS. Ultimately, robots like these could help build space stations on the moon for humans to inhabit, the obvious advantage being that they do not suffer from human limitations – such as oxygen deprivation – and would be much cheaper to send into space.
Perhaps one of our Rode Heath pupils might even be involved in their development in the future. Who knows?
Finally, the children had the opportunity to handle a real robot. Even though the Sony robotic dog, Aibo, is relatively old technology, it is still incredibly addictive and captivated the children as it responded to their stroking by wagging its tail, moving its body and making dog-like noises.
To earn the chance to engage with Aibo, pupils had to ask a question about robotics and I was very pleased with the scientific nature of their responses. They had obviously been very motivated by the subject matter.
Lunch was taken in the student refectory – much to the bewilderment of some of the staff and students, who seemed completely unaware of our visit. To suddenly have your space invaded by 50 primary aged children is probably quite alarming. It certainly freed up a few tables. Having feasted upon chicken dippers and chips and having wiped up the deluge of squash that was spilt by children missing the last step on their way to grab a seat next to their friends, we set forth enthusiastically to the Sports Hall for the main activities of the afternoon.
These consisted of two workshops. One was a team-building session run by the Outdoor Education students. This involved the children working together to cross the sports hall on a pair of very large horizontal stilts. Hermione in Y5 was magnificent as a leader – she would make a perfect cox! They also had to transverse a “deadly acid swamp”, which required a great deal of co-ordination and balance.
The second set of workshops involved the children performing a series of fitness challenges using specialist MMU equipment such as jump mats and starting gates. They were able to collect data which measured key components of their fitness including stamina, lung capacity, power and upper body strength.
All this activity was filmed by a quadcopter circling above the children – a great set of clips for our final Rolls Royce video. You should be able see the results shortly on http://trainlikeanastronaut.org/.
For many children, the highlight of the day however was the opportunity to spend a few minutes in the University’s environmental chamber. This gave them a real feel for what it might be like to work in extremes of temperature – just like astronauts. At -200C, it certainly was cold! After about a minute my camera hand started to shake, resulting no doubt in quite wobbly footage.
All too soon the day was over and it was time to leave. We’d had a marvellous day and learned a great deal.
Back in school, there was yet another surprise for the children. Garry Pheasey and his team had designed and produced a Rode Heath/MMU/Out of This World ruler for each of the Year 5 and Year 6 children who had attended the event. Having watched a short video explaining how the rulers had been made, I gave the rulers out to the excited Year 5s.
And what’s the first thing that they did with them? As if orchestrated, they all instinctively balanced the rulers on one finger to find the centre of gravity! Charlie even commented on the fact that the Sun was in the middle of the ruler, which was fitting as this was its position in the Universe (something we had been discussing in Monday’s science lesson!)
This tells me that our project is working . . . .
Wow! It sounds like you had an amazing time at MMU on Wednesday. The learning experience is something I wish I’d had the opportunity to do when I was at school! Keep enjoying your learning!
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