ESA Summer Teachers’ Workshop 2015

I have just come back from a 3 day Summer Teachers’ Workshop held at ESA in the Netherlands. And what an exciting and thought provoking experience it has been. More than a hundred professionals of varying nationalities were gathered together to learn more about Space education. Delegates from Poland, Estonia, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Cuba, Belgium to name but a few listened intently to the excellent keynote speeches and participated eagerly in the numerous activities.

The conference started with an ice-breaking event entitled ‘Pixel Your Space’. We worked in teams to create a series of pixelated images, which we then put together to create a massive piece of artwork. The finished object was really effective. This is a new resource produced by ESA Education, which explores the concept of pixels and how they affect the resolution of an image.


Working together we created 6 mosaic sheets.


Everyone’s sheets were carefully place in order.


This was our final picture – inspired. What a great activity.

It also gave us the opportunity to get to know the people on our table. I was with Finnish secondary teacher – Antii; Spanish head teacher – Ramon and Chris – a retired teacher who was now working for the RSC and the chair elect of the ASE. Over the course of the next few days, I got to know her really well and we clicked famously.

The primary and secondary teachers tended to split off in the afternoons to undertake different workshops. Our first afternoon covered the topic of gravity. I already knew much of the information; however, I enjoyed the soft landing exercise where we had to protect an egg being dropped from a height of 4m, using a selection of material.

Ramon and I worked with a Janet – a primary school teacher from Estonia – and encased our egg in a set of inflated balloons, which mimicked the landing of the Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit. Having tested our creations with a ‘plasticine’ egg, all the teams then dropped their designs from the balcony. No eggs were broken in the event, but a great deal of fun was had. Some of the designs were quite ingenious. By timing the descent we were able to then work out how fast the egg was travelling when it hit the ground – another example of how you can easily integrate science and maths.


Our design took elements from the Spirit landing on Mars.

The workshops ended at 6pm, but not the events of the day. At 7:15pm we were all invited to a dinner held at a local hotel – conveniently just opposite the Radisson where I was staying. The Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin was just that and absolutely massive. On the way back from the toilets, Chris and I became completely disoriented and ended up in a room, similar to the one we were dining in, but eerily empty!


We had a great dinner hosted by ESA on the first night.


The entertainment was magical!

The highlight of the evening was a magic show, performed by a magician whose name escapes me but whose background was in philosophy. He performed a series of very classic illusions such as the Chinese linking rings; cups and balls and rope cutting – all executed brilliantly: a great end to a great day.

ESA had arranged a series of buses to transport us to their facilities. There were a number of pick up points, one of which stopped just opposite my hotel, which was very convenient. It turned out that Ramon was staying there too with his wife and daughter.

Thursday morning began with coffee and croissants in Newton. (The hotels we were staying in did not seem to want to cater that early for breakfast!)

At 9am came the moment we had all been waiting for – the keynote speech by Matt Taylor, who talked about his role in the Rosetta mission. He had so much knowledge to share that he seemed to talk at hundred miles an hour – I have no idea how some of the foreign delegates kept up: not only was it fast, but highly technical too. Matt was very engaging and kept everyone’s attention for over 90 minutes. I was even lucky enough to have my photograph taken with him and he actually signed on of our passports.


Matt Taylor was inspirational.


I learned some very interesting facts about comets.

Again, some of the activities were already familiar, but there was plenty of knowledge to gain about comets, particularly about the use of gravity assist to change the direction and speed of Rosetta. We were even pointed to an Angry Birds App, which helped to illustrate this principle – Angry Birds in Space.


Making craters.


Testing for water content.


Making a volcano.

After lunch, Guido Levrini, who talked about ‘Observing Earth from Space’, gave the next keynote speech. This was an absolutely fascinating talk about a subject that I knew little about. Did you know that ships transport 90% of all the world’s goods? Only satellites can track this amount of traffic effectively.

I learned that the EO satellites move from the North to the South Pole, unlike other satellites, which tend to orbit the equator. A complete mapping of the Earth takes about 5 or 6 days. They travel at a speed of 7.5 km per second and at an altitude of 800 km, taking 100 minutes for a complete orbit.

Observing the Earth remotely means without physical contact with the Earth. There are different kinds of orbit: polar, low-earth (very stable) and geostationary (36,000 km away).

There are two kinds of sensor used in Earth Observation:

  • Active sensors
  • Passive sensor

Active sensors – radio waves are transmitted from the satellite, which are then reflected from the Earth back to the satellite. An example of such a satellite would be Sentinel 1A. The pictures are much more detailed, as radar is able to travel through the clouds.

Passive sensors – use sunlight, which is reflected on the Earth and detected by an instrument on the satellite. An example of such a satellite would be Sentinel 2A. In this scenario, the satellite does not play an active role, but just receives the information.

This topic is again full of cross-curricula possibilities, particularly linking geography with science. One of the roles of EO satellites is to monitor sea levels across the world and there was a very interesting activity suggested which involved land ice versus sea ice. Which would cause the sea level to rise if it melted? A way to investigate this is to place a large mass of plasticine in a beaker and then fill it to the brim with water. Fill a similar beaker to the brim with water. Place an ice cube in each and see which overflows.

Day Three began with a keynote speech by Pal Brekke from the Norwegian Space Centre. His theme was ‘The wonders of light’, specifically the Northern Lights. He gave a very clear explanation of the phenomena.

In a nutshell . . . (apologies for any errors!)

A stream of charged particles is pushed away from the Sun in the form of a solar wind. These particles collide with oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere, transferring energy and creating different colours of light – like a gigantic neon sign. These lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. In fact, all planets, which have a magnetic atmosphere, will experience Northern Lights – Saturn being a good example.

Apparently, the best time of year to view them is from September to April, with March and April being particularly good. I can definitely feel a trip to Norway coming on! How about it Rode Heath?

The next activity following this talk was to make a spectroscope, which I enjoyed immensely. Not being very practical myself, I was extremely pleased with my efforts. It was quite magical seeing the sunlight split into the different colours of the spectrum. This is a very useful tool to use back in the classroom.


My spectroscope.

We then looked briefly at sending different coloured light down optical fibre – a great way to send a coded message and an excellent means of demonstrating to children how the Internet works.


This is a really useful piece of equipment to demonstrate mixing different colours of light.

Just before lunch we had the opportunity to meet Andre Kuipers, an ESA astronaut who has actually spent time aboard the ISS as part of Mission 30. This was a huge privilege, and again, I made sure that he signed one of our Year 5 passports.


My big moment with Andre Kuipers.


He even signed a passport (top right). The other one is Matt Taylor.


One of the great people I met at the conference – Chris Colclough.

He gave a very interesting talk about his journey to becoming an astronaut and some of the experiences he had on board the ISS. I didn’t realise that he is actually a medical doctor – quite a useful colleague to have on such a trip.


Andre became obsessed with space by the age of 12.

He was a very charming and humorous man and I greatly enjoyed listening to him.

After lunch the primary teachers had a session on Space Food. We have covered this quite extensively at Rode Heath, so I didn’t feel that I learned anything particularly new.

One of the activities to investigate whether it is more difficult to swallow on the ISS – due to the microgravity environment – was to ask children to lie back on a chair and try to chew a grape. This would never be allowed in the UK, as it is such an obvious choking risk. Needless to say, not many of the delegates were willing to participate either.

I am not quite sure how relevant this was anyway, as swallowing is not affected by gravity but is caused by muscles contracting and pushing the food down.


Blind tasting of food.

What I didn’t know was that astronauts need a diet, which is lower in iron.  Apparently, whilst in Space, the body accumulates iron because the blood volume contracts.

Anyway, all in all, it was a fantastic experience, which I enjoyed immensely. I am really looking forward to downloading the resources, which I hope will be made available on line in a couple of weeks. There are so many excellent ideas, which I would like to incorporate into the curriculum next year.

Taking part in this conference has reinforced my conviction that Space is the perfect topic to instill curiosity in children. The message from ESA was clear: Space can and should be used as cross curricula theme in schools. And, that is exactly what we have been doing this year at Rode Heath with our series of Space Passports. Next year is looking even more exciting with over 1,000 of these passports being taken up by our cluster and beyond.

Thank you, ESA, for putting on such an excellent event and inspiring me to continue.


Fun over lunch with Paxi and his new friend Captain Kiwi!

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