Category Archives: Project Posts

Jim Lovell @Space_Lectures

On Sunday 1st November Clare Pheasey and I were lucky enough to attend a lecture in Pontefract organised by Space Lectures at which Apollo 13 astronaut, Jim Lovell, was speaking. At 87 years old, smartly dressed in jacket and tie, he still cuts a dashing figure.

For well over an hour, he stood in front of his audience regaling us with tales of daring and adventure. He was articulate, informative and full of energy and humour

He began describing his role in NASA’s Gemini programme. Gemini 7 was his first flight, during which he spent nearly two weeks orbiting the Earth. We learnt that these early missions were mainly to investigate the impact of micro gravity on the body in preparation for a mission to the Moon itself. At this time two weeks was the longest time that anyone had spent in space. Jim went on to talk about the various tests that he underwent including monitoring calcium levels for two weeks before and after the space flight in order to investigate the effect on bone mineral density. Interestingly, nearly 50 years later, they are still researching this on board the ISS. It seems that we are still not really sure what the long term implications of space travel are on our bones!

Throughout the Gemini space flights, Jim told his audience that he had to wear a pressure pad on his legs which inflated and squeezed his muscles for 2 minutes then relaxed for 6 minutes for the entire orbital mission – a great bore, according to Jim. This was ostensibly to aid venous return of blood from the legs to the heart – whether it was beneficial or not, was unclear.

Another aim, during these first orbital missions was to improve the ability to perform tasks outside the spacecraft. Any extra vehicular activity was proving very difficult for the astronauts, who became physically exhausted in a very short time after exiting the vehicle.

It was at this point in time, Jim told us, that a NASA engineer came up with the idea of using a swimming pool to help simulate the conditions that the astronauts were experiencing in the micro-gravity environment of space. They found a pool and built a copy of one of the space modules where the astronauts, suitably weighted, could work. It was by doing this that they managed to come up with a suitable range of handholds on the spacecraft for the astronauts to grab onto whilst they were outside. Up until, then, it had been extremely difficult to move around. Indeed, he said, they had forgotten about Newton’s third law of motion which meant that any push against the spacecraft would send them moving quite forcefully in the opposite direction, into the vacuum of space.

Following Gemini 7 & 12, Jim talked about how he became part of the first manned mission to  the Moon on Apollo 8. Achieving firsts as an astronaut is significant and this for Jim remains a highlight of his career, as he was the first to navigate a space craft around the far side of the Moon. He was clearly animated when talking about seeing these views for the first time – saying that he felt ‘like a schoolboy’

Indeed, it was during this 1968 Apollo 8 mission that astronaut William Anders took his iconic photo: Earth-rise.

Finally, and what we had probably all been waiting for, Jim spoke about his last mission – the ill-fated Apollo 13. He laughed when he informed us that they took off at 13:13 from the Kennedy Space Centre – definitely inauspicious timing.

The events which led up to the launch were interesting. He had, in fact, been scheduled to command Apollo 14 but got bumped up – something he was pleased about, but his wife was not because of the ‘13’. Jim insisted that he wasn’t superstitious though – I wonder if he ever changed his mind?

We were told that it was actually damage caused to a dropped oxygen tank, which caused the catastrophic explosion on board. It was felt by the powers that be that replacing the tank would delay the launch by a month, which would have had a detrimental impact on the race with Russia.

Jim talks about the near disaster that took place with a great deal of humour, but you can clearly see that this man must have had nerves of steel. He joked that while Mission Control were giving him vital instructions to redirect themselves back to Earth, his two companions were taking pictures of the Moon – “Well,” he says, “they were first timers, but I pointed out that if we didn’t get this right, then they wouldn’t have the opportunity to develop their shots!” He also talked a lot in terms of the odds of ‘getting back’ and that as the odds increased so the crew became calmer and more confident – I found it fascinating that they would be so logical when facing their own mortality 1000s of miles from home…

To get back to Earth, Apollo 13 needed to use the gravity of the Moon – known as free return trajectory. Establishing the angle of re-entry is a complex procedure with only a 2 degree window to play with. As the computer systems had been shut down there was no way for the crew to know whether or not they were aligned properly. It soon became clear however, that they were going to miss by 40,000 miles causing the spacecraft to just go back and forth in an elliptical orbit for ever – as Jim said, he didn’t want to end up as a monument in Space.

In the end he had to execute a complex emergency manoeuvre (which he had previously written BUT had agreed its removal from the flight manuals, as it was considered too extreme) to redirect the spacecraft using the Earth’s terminator, a moving line which separates the portion of Earth experiencing daylight from that experiencing night.

Fortunately, for Jim and his crew, this manoeuvre worked and he is here to tell the tale and what a great tale it is!

Following the lecture, we were treated to a Q&A session, which was hosted by Brian Cox – an extra bonus, particularly as Clare very artfully managed to get his signature on one of our space passports! Questions ranged from ‘What kind of space food did Jim eat during his missions?’ to ‘What was it like finally landing the Apollo 13 module?’

I had thought that they ate a kind of baby food onboard the space crafts, but according to Jim, it was mostly freeze dried. Unfortunately though, there was no hot water for rehydration, so although the freeze dried peas were transformed to their original size, they were lukewarm – he didn’t seem to mind much though. I suppose when you have the Moon in your sights, other things pale in comparison!

Brian Cox’s son asked about the reentry of Apollo 13. It was really interesting to hear Jim describing the red glow that he caught sight of as the module entered the atmosphere and the G-force experienced – which at 6g was quite low compared to the 16g he was actually taken up to during training in the NASA centrifuge.

All too soon the event was over and having queued up to get our autographs, we made our way home. But not before knowing the identify of the next of Space Lecture’s speakers:

Gene Cernan – Last Man on the Moon

I just can’t wait until April 2016!


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!

Meeting Eileen Marie Collins in Pontefract.

When presented with the opportunity to attend a lecture by Eileen Collins in conjunction with Space Lectures how could I refuse? Eileen was the first woman to both pilot and command a US space shuttle and I couldn’t wait to hear more about her experiences in this male-dominated environment.

We arrived at Carleton Community High School in Pontefract and immediately were surrounded by ‘space’! The entrance area was awash with pin badges, postcards, books, photos and even a little boy in a full NASA boiler suit. There was a buzz of excitement in the air and it was evident that the space enthusiasts in the audience couldn’t wait to meet Colonel Collins!

Eileen Collins

Eileen was introduced and stood in front of a backdrop of herself in full astronaut gear – a sight to behold! For those of you who don’t know, having previously been a pilot in the U.S Air Force,  in 1995 Eileen became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle – the space shuttle is a manned spacecraft that has a has a particular job (mission) to carry out – the aim of this mission was to retrieve a astronomy satellite, she then became the first woman to command a space shuttle in 1999. In 2005, she commanded the first space shuttle since the Columbia disaster in 2003 in which all seven astronauts were killed, a feat which must have taken great courage. The aim of this mission was to test out new safety measures and repair techniques in the hope that this could prevent further disasters.

This mission in 2005 lasted 14 days and most of this time was spent docked at the International Space Station (ISS) where the American astronauts met their Russian counterparts who were extremely pleased to see them, especially as they arrived with supplies of coffee amongst other things! She showed us amazing video footage of the shuttle docking at the ISS and some of the tasks that were undertaken. I was in awe of the bravery of these astronauts making their space walks. She also showed us some pictures taken by members of her crew; these included photos of the Himalayas, the Suez Canal, New York and the Southern lights! The astronauts definitely get to see a very different view of the world from space!

Eileen Collins Lecture

Eileen also talked in detail about her involvement in each of these missions and how she made the transition from pilot to commander – a role that she described as requiring her to be open and humble, not traits you would always associate with a leader!  She also offered some very good advice to all you budding astronauts out there – make sure you study hard at Maths and Science!!

Eileen finished her talk with mention of the future – she thinks that the ISS could be used for tourists to visit. I wonder how long the waiting list would be for people wanting to visit and look down on our wonderful planet?

After the talk had finished Eileen signed photographs and other memorabilia and as we waited until the end we were lucky enough to spend five minutes talking to her. Mrs Pheasey showed Eileen the work that has been done by all the pupils at Rode Heath Primary School and I think that she was more than impressed with the space passports, the 3d printing and all the other activities that have taken place this year. She was also very interested in the Google hangout with Tim Peake and said that she knew lots of children who would be very excited about doing something like that.

All in all, I have to say that the day was OUT OF THIS WORLD!! @OotW_UK

Signed Picture


Rode Heath in Space

So now we really have been into Space – well we’ve sent our names outside the stratosphere! What another amazing day at Rode Heath Primary – all courtesy of our Out of This World project.

Tuesday was the launch of our Ballistic Balloon Mission, named in our February Google Hangout by astronaut, Tim Peake. The weather was just about perfect, wind speed 5mph and the sun was almost shining. I had spent the night before making sure that the batteries were charged for the data loggers and that the SD card was formatted and lithium batteries inserted in the Black Box. Everything was ready.

Alex and Chris from Sent into Space ( arrived just after 9am to deliver a brief assembly for the whole school before setting up their equipment. The children were very excited and eager to learn the science behind the launch. Some excellent questions were both answered and asked by a range of pupils – some as young as four – who wanted to know how fast the balloon was going to travel; whether it would burn up when returning to Earth & how Chris & Alex would be able to find it. They were intrigued to learn that Alex would be holding a large antenna out of the window of the car as Chris was driving!

In the end we had to stop proceedings as we were in danger of missing the launch time! Alex and Chris needed at least half an hour to check the equipment and secure the camera and trackers inside the payload – with gaffer tape no less – so we had to let them proceed.

Indeed, the children were not the only ones to be interested in the event. As we trooped out of assembly, a group of reporters from various local newspapers, a film crew from the LEA and John Acres from BBC Radio Stoke, were waiting to speak to us. John was the first to carry out an interview, as he wanted to send his material back to the radio station to be broadcast at different points during the day. Hermione Pugh and Hannah Taylor from Year 5 were chosen to speak to him.

John was hilarious – quite brilliant with the two girls. He almost convinced Hermione that she was going to have to try and fit in the payload. If you want to listen to the whole interview then follow this link to the recording

At 11:00 the whole school were summoned outside to watch the balloon being filled with helium. I hadn’t realised that it actually takes about half an hour to do this. We all stood on the school field, behind strategically placed cones and watched, transfixed, as the white latex expanded and grew to about 3m in diameter. Then the parachute was attached and finally the payload, beautifully decorated with the winning mission patch stickers – Tim Peake had previously tweeted that it was the ‘prettiest payload he had ever seen’.

Jack Castle from Year 5 was the lucky pupil whose number had been chosen to release the balloon. There was a decisive countdown and with 200 pupils and numerous parents and staff eagerly watching, Jack let go and the balloon and payload hurtled upwards at more than 5m per second to the cheer of the crowd. All too soon, it had completely disappeared and was on its journey into the blackness.

Now the waiting began. . .

Inside the payload were two data loggers, each complete with SIM cards and telephone numbers. These were their means of tracking the load. Calling the SIMs would result in a text message giving precise coordinates of its current location.  Also inside the polystyrene container was another box, collecting all sorts of data, such as temperature, altitude and pressure. This allowed us to monitor in real time (on a laptop) the rate of ascent and how high the balloon reached before it finally popped at an increased diameter of 10m.

We hit 106,980 feet in a 2.5 hour flight and landed 29 miles away a little to the north west of Matlock – but unfortunately for Alex and Chris, the payload didn’t quite land on the ground!

I received an email from Chris well after dark saying that it had taken about 4 hours to retrieve the payload from a 120+ foot tree. The reason that it took such as long time was that they had to climb 3 trees in total, as there were no branches low down on the tree it was in, or the one next to it – that’s real dedication for you.

We are waiting with trepidation for tomorrow morning when Alex and Chris will hopefully bring the actual footage to Rode Heath for us to look at. Be sure that it will be posted on this website for everyone to see.

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Trip to the House of Commons

If you had told me this time last year that we would be bringing children to the House of Commons, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet another fantastic experience for the Rode Heath pupils and all because of our Out of this World project. We had been invited to attend a Mission X event by Heather MacRae of Venture Thinking, who runs the Train Like An Astronaut programme on behalf of the UK Space Agency. The aim of the event was to meet and listen to special guests from the world of sports, science and space and for schools to demonstrate the various Train Like An Astronaut activities they have been involved in.

All attendees had been encouraged to set up a meeting with their local MP and we had no problem persuading Fiona Bruce to meet us in the Westminster Hall. Four lucky children were chosen to make the trip with Clare Pheasey and myself: Hermione Pugh, Millie Leese, Heidi Pheasey and Pierce Harvey. They were all extremely excited and couldn’t wait to arrive.

Despite stopping at every station, the train journey seemed to whizz by. The children were most amused by the ‘speaking WC’ which advised them to avoid flushing bizarre items such as unpaid bills, an ex’s jumper, hopes and dreams and goldfish down the toilet!

A short taxi ride in a large black cab – which conveniently took six people – and a huge number of photographs of the London sights later (including the lions in Trafalgar Square) we arrived outside the Houses of Parliament. The sun was shining brightly and we were looking forward to the day ahead. Surprisingly, there was no queue and it didn’t take long to get through security – apart from the fact that both Clare Pheasey and I had to be scanned after causing the detector to go off. To be honest I was actually surprised that we were allowed in at all, as we had so many bags and pieces of technical equipment – particularly Clare Pheasey, who was carrying a very large, unwieldy bag containing a jump mat and starting gates.

We had arranged to meet Fiona Bruce in Westminster Hall and shortly after 2pm she arrived with her Parliamentary Manager, Johnny Munro. She was very interested in our Out of this World project and took time to look at the children’s space passports before orchestrating a number of photographs. She then asked the children if they would like to visit the Gallery to view the parliamentary business in the Chamber. Of course, their answer was in the affirmative. Hermione in particular was transfixed by the proceedings, despite the fact that the majority of the green benches were empty. She was able to give an excellent explanation of what was going on and who was sitting where. She even identified the mace! I was very impressed by her knowledge.

Following this brief insight into politics, Fiona took us through various corridors until we reached an outside restaurant area, where the MPs eat. This had a fantastic view overlooking the River Thames with Lambeth palace in the background on one side and the London Eye and Westminster Bridge on the other – another photo opportunity, obviously!

It was now time to meet our fellow delegates for the Fit for Space session, so we made our way back to the Westminster Hall. What a wonderful structure this is: the oldest building on the Parliamentary estate. If you look at the floor you notice many brass plaques detailing major events in the Hall’s history such as the trial of William Wallace in 1305; the coronation banquet of Henry VIII in 1509 and Elizabeth I in 1559 and where Winston Churchill lay in state in 1965.

I found it quite surreal to think that I was actually standing in the exact places where these famous icons had once stood.

The afternoon started with presentations from various speakers including Chrissie Wellington MBE, who is the unbeaten Iron Man champion. For those of us who are unaware of this accolade, this is a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, raced in that order and without a break. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. Chrissie (four times World Iron Man champion) managed to achieve all this in a World Record breaking time of 8 hours, 18 minutes 13 seconds.

As you might expect, Chrissie gave a very inspirational talk where she encouraged the school children to ‘Reach for the Stars’ and pursue their dreams. One of her main messages was not to be afraid to be different and to be prepared to work outside your comfort zone – sound advice indeed!

She was followed by Dr Sheila Kanani, also known as Saturn Sheila, who works for the Royal Astronomical Society and is obviously very passionate about anything and everything to do with Space. She gave us a whistle stop tour of her favourite top ten things about the Universe, at break neck speed – what an amazing amount of information she was able to pack into ten minutes.

The second half of the session was devoted to the school children who ranged from primary to secondary age. There were contributions from six schools, all taking an active part in the Mission X programme. Everyone spoke very eloquently and it was impressive to hear about the wide variety of activities that are being carried out. Some of the children were very knowledgeable about the topic of Space – even challenging the adults. It was great to see so much valuable learning taking place.

Our own Rode Heath children demonstrated some of the sophisticated equipment that we had been able to use at our own Mission X launch at MMU back in January where we tested lung capacity, and core strength: Handgrip Dynamometers and Peak Expiratory Flow Metres. Millie Leese from Rode Heath then talked about how aspirational her visit to the University had been, to the extent that her goal is now to be the first member of her immediate family to gain a degree. Indeed, to enable more schools to benefit from the MMU experience, Clare and I have recently applied for a Royal Society grant to develop a collection of scientific and educational resources to allow precise data to be collected and analysed by schools participating in the Mission X scheme.

It was soon apparent that a number of the schools present have been involved with Mission X since its inception five years ago. It was wonderful to hear how many of them are now including the programme in their curriculum for all year groups, not just Year 5. Not only that, but due to the impact that Space can have on learning, schools are realising that they can use Mission X as a stepping stone to promoting and increasing the teaching of STEM subjects school wide.

And, with Tim Peake ready to begin his mission to the ISS in November, this is perfect timing to encourage all schools to follow this lead.

Never ignore a possible

This project is all about possibilities. It’s about aiming high – literally #outofthisworld. Who would have thought that we would actually achieve a live link with Tim Peake! Well, we have and it is now a reality. The publicity is out there, so tune in 25th February at 10am.


Achieving our goals is down to the hard work of everyone at Rode Heath: the teachers, the children, the parents, MMU and the Out of this World team, who have all believed in the possibilities – ‘Never ignore a possible’ (a great quote from our Year 5 class book The Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell). So a huge thank you everyone – WOW!

All those whose questions we have selected will receive specially printed T-shirts to mark the event. These will also be available for people to purchase as a memento after the Hangout.

This week we have achieved several milestones, despite being largely focussed on assessments, our most notable of which has been the creation of our first 3D objects for the ISS.

IsaacLauren's ISSHeidi's pot

This is no mean feat, as we have been through many teething problem before finding an excellent solution in Tinkercad – again this would not have been achieved without persistence and hard work on the part of Mr Leech. Children are now able to work at home online with their parents and then send the stl file they have produced directly to school for printing. Currently, the Y5s are trialling this, but we expect to roll it out to the rest of school in the very near future.

Indeed, everyone who encounters our Out of This World project seems to be genuinely interested and keen to take part. Our Year 5 gymnastics teacher, Sarah Brewitt, has been adapting her sessions to fit in with our Train Like an Astronaut programme, linking gymnastics with science.  I asked her to write about some of the activities she chose to illustrate centre of gravity.

Using Science in Gymnastics

Partner and counter balancing involves the understanding of being ‘on balance’ which means ensuring the ‘connection point’ or centre of mass is over the point which is connected to the floor. For example, balancing on one foot will require a slight shift in the body to move over the foot you are balancing on which is in connection with the floor.

The class were asked to seek their centre of mass by standing against a wall with their hips and heels touching the wall. Keeping their hips and heels touching, they were asked to lean forwards to touch their toes. They all found they felt like they were either going to fall over or did fall forwards. When asked why they replied they ‘were off balance’ and they had to move their feet forwards allowing the centre of mass to be over point of balance which was their feet.

Balance 2 Balance 1

During a partner counter balance gymnasts were asked to make their feet touch, forming a ‘support base’ and cross their arms over holding wrists. When connected and ready, they were asked to squeeze their bodies tight and lean backwards keeping their bodies in a straight line. They tested what would happen if one gymnast were to lean further than the other and questioned how to balance if the mass of a person was the bigger than the other. The connection of hands became the centre of the two gymnasts and therefore this had to remain over the support base which was their feet.

Sarah Brewitt

Maths Week at Rode Heath

Yet another fun-filled educational week at Rode Heath and this time it was the turn of Maths.  Bright and early Monday morning, the Problem Solving Company arrived complete with all manner of giant puzzles to entertain and challenge the children. It was wonderful to see every pupil engaged, from the youngest Reception child right up to the Year 6s – each key stage involved in a different 40 minute workshop.

The younger children worked with giant electronic mazes to improve their coordinate and positioning skills whereas the older children were confronted with giant tangrams intended to enhance their spacial awareness. The hexagon puzzle proved particularly difficult and I believe was only achieved by a Year 6 team. If you want to have a go at placing the six hexagons around a central hexagon, making sure that all the dots are matching, then print out the document on this webpage. Believe me, it’s not that easy! But patience is one of the most important attributes of a would-be astronaut, so bear that in mind when you are getting frustrated.  Maybe we should send a copy to NASA!

Following the workshops we all focused upon the maths objectives in our Space passports. These were wide ranging from finding fractions of stars in Year 1 to creating an Earth speedometer in Year 6. Year 3 had a very interesting week as they were tasked with weighing food before and after it had been dehydrated. This meant that the children were the first class to use our newly acquired Digital Food Dryer and Dehydrator. By the end of the week there was a very strange smell emanating from the Year 3 classroom – not entirely pleasant I have to say. This is unfortunate, as I was hoping that Mr Randall would be able to make some money selling his dried products, but judging from the expressions on the faces of those children who were indeed brave enough to taste the results, I don’t think it’s going to be a big money-spinner!

In Year 5 we had a lot of fun with rockets – investigating whether the launch angle had an impact on the distance travelled. The results were inconclusive, but we learned a considerable amount about how to conduct an investigation and what we would change to make the data more reliable and useful – facts that we passed onto the Year 4 class, who were busy with their own challenge of working out the distances of each planet from the Sun. It’s a good job that our playground and car park was long enough to accommodate their calculations.

One of the significant events of the week was our first designed and printed 3D object. This was achieved by Hermione Pugh in Year 5, who had used Tinkercad at home to create a 3D house, which she printed at school. Quite understandably, she was delighted by the result. Unfortunately, in printing, the raft that the software created had lifted slightly from the base of the platform which meant that her house wasn’t completely perfect. This mattered little to Hermione, however, who I managed to capture on film, explaining to one of her classmates about the frustrations of 3D design – music to my ears!

Another important event was the choosing of our questions for Tim Peake, which were all sent to ESA on Friday. We are hoping that as part of the interview, he will choose a name for our own Mission into Space on Tuesday 17th March (more details to follow later). I still can’t believe that our Google Hangout is actually going ahead.  Thinking about it though, it had to – after all, it’s one of the first objectives in our Space passports. And, thanks to the technical expertise of MMU and the persistence of Clare Pheasey, we are ready for 25th February – 10am our time. Although it’s a shame that we can’t invite parents to attend, it will be broadcast live on the Internet and then available on YouTube as a download. Make sure you catch it if you can!

Hexagon puzzles

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Programming at Rode Heath by Mrs Ross

Throughout the school we have been programming in various forms.  Reception have been busy bees programming their Bee-Bots both practically and on the iPads, whilst further up the school have been learning Scratch.

Over recent weeks, Year 2 have been progressing with their programming skills. Initially, the children revisited programming Daisy the Dinosaur, moving on from inputting simple commands which made her go forward, grow, shrink or jump to using repeat commands.  This took a little more thought, as the challenge was to repeat the commands using minimal instructions. It was a little tricky but we got there with the help of the Repeat function. Continuing on our journey, last week Year 2 shared an afternoon with Year 1 showing them how to code using Kodable on the iPads. After listening to the story of how the fuzzFamily crash landed their spaceship on the planet Smeeborg we got stuck in to help the fuzzFamily explore the fascinating Technomazes of Smeeborg. In order for a fuzzFamily member to exit the maze the children had to program simple instructions (having learned that an algorithm is an instruction) for each creature. To gain maximum points they needed to collect the gold coins along the way. Kodable provides children with much needed experience of sequencing instructions and it was great to see the all the children enjoying their successes. Year 1 are now ready to help the fuzzFamily on their own! Good luck Year 1.

The majority of our Juniors and teachers have now completed The Hour of Code as part of their Introduction to Programming. In addition to this, some of our more experienced Scratch users have been assisting in class with the first steps of coding.

Our After School Club is going from strength to strength.  By the end of last term the word-on-the-code went viral amongst the lower Juniors and we are now bursting at the seams.   All the children are learning how to program using Scratch and so far they have programmed fireworks exploding, chomping fish and flying spaceships.  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly children find their feet with technology and application and Scratch is no exception.

In addition to learning Scratch and with the prospect of two Raspberry Pi computers being flown to the International Space Station as part of Tim Peake’s mission, Rode Heath Coders are to enter the Astro Pi project.  The project is to devise and describe an original idea for an experiment or application that can be conducted on the Astro Pi by Tim Peake during his mission.  The two best submissions will get the opportunity to work with the Astro Pi team to interpret their ideas and the team at the Raspberry Pi Foundation will then code them ready for flight on the ISS. Get your thinking caps on coders!

Congratulations - Daisy The Dino Kodable 1 Kodable wk1_3

Mission X at Rode Heath by Mr Randall

Mission X Train like an Astronaut has begun at Rode Heath School.

Over the last couple of weeks the Year Three class have been mentoring the other classes in the school. It was decided that rather than just showing staff in a staff meeting how Mission X worked and doing a one off demonstration lesson after school with a group of children, it would be more beneficial and engaging to show the teachers and their own class a demonstration lesson during school hours.

Each class was shown some of the Mission X videos relevant to their year group and a quick guide on the Mission X website. The Astro Agility, Martian Mountain and the Mission Control activities being common to most classes but adapted to suit the ability. For instance the climbing frames were used for Martian Mountains for all classes apart from Y5 and Y6 who used the ropes. Build an Astronaut Core and Do a Space Walk were demonstrated for Years 5 and 6 as well.

60 children in the school hall took some managing especially with a reduced area due to building work and a particularly busy timetable. After watching a couple of the Mission X videos, a dance warm up for all prepared everyone for the activities. First, each activity was demonstrated and then in groups, a rotation of five activities was then set up. Using partners, the children timed themselves on the Mission X activities. Next the class watching had the opportunity to join in, guided by the Year 3 children and the teachers. It was really good to see Year 3 children mentoring reception children as it gave them a sense of greater responsibility and the conversations going on were very informative. It all seemed to work well for the demonstrations.

What now? Well each class now has a guide sheet on how to teach the Mission X and manage their own P.E. session with the resources available. The hall timetable will need some adjustments to fit everyone in during each week. Monitoring of results (times, heart rates, comments) is something each class can adapt although there is a guide sheet they can use to start with. Around the school there is definitely a sense of energy and enthusiasm for Mission X. Over the last few weeks there have also been sporting competitions which have emphasised to the rest of the school how important it is to train and keep fit.

Year 3 Mission X

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14-1-15 MMU Mission X Launch Day

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

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 . . . .