How my relationship with the space unit is changing (love/hate)

I normally hate the space unit in grade 9 science. I mean, HATE. In my personal life i have no interest in astronomy, even though many a canoe trippers have tried to engage me. I know very little beyond the curriculum requirements of grade 9 science, which makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. In the past it has been used as a way to put scientific notation into action. The last time I taught it, years ago, I had a few color overhead slides with neat images and a few websites and magazine articles to help engage.

This time however, I have Chris Hadfield and the Canadian Space Agency. We have a bubble detector in our classroom that is the same as @Cmdr_Hadfield has on the ISS, being used to measure radiation. We are sharing our results with people all over Canada and beyond. We have access to photos each day that show us what the Earth looks like from the ISS that are being tweeted out in real-time, not released years later. We have videos showing us how they wash their hands in space. We caught a live stream of Chris Hadfield talking from space with William Shatner, and tweeted with people from all over Canada about what we were watching. My students self-imposed homework was to learn about William Shatner and why those tweets between him, @Cmdr_Hadfield, Buzz Aldrin and Nimoy were funny (if they were not already Star Trek watchers). They have taken an inquisitive stance to learning neat facts about space travel and the International Space Station. Brainstorming a list of pros and cons of space exploration left them with more questions than facts.

We have been archiving tweets from the CSA, Chris Hadfield, NASA, etc. Students are actually looking at them on their own time and reading, following links, etc. Students are asking me questions that I have no idea how to answer. One googled the size of the space station and then with a small group, likened each dimension to something familiar to them.

I used the media as an engagement factor during the first week of grade 9 science and expected to quickly move on and still resort to the space unit as the last thing we do in science (knowing that time would be short and it would be rushed – it always is). What has happened, is that through student inquiry and passion, tweeted links and resources we have found a way to make space exploration the over-arching theme for the whole course.

Our research project with Chris Hadfield and other schools has us measuring neutron radiation. What is a neutron? Is a neutron always dangerous? A student with a vague understanding of the atom asked me “aren’t there neutrons everywhere?, why is the radiation detector not picking up those?”. And, so we go into chemistry next monday while doing a research project with the ISS and studying neutron radiation data.

Then, as I’m procrastinating and trying to avoid round three of digging myself out from under all this wonderful snow, I get a tweet “check out this video”. Its a video about space exploration and how our view of the earth has changed. It talked about viewing the world as one big ecosystem when looking down on it. And, with a flash a light bulb went off in my head. We can use space to lead us right into the ecosystems unit as well.

Now, I just need to find the perfect connection to get us into the electricity unit and we’ll be set. We’ll start by looking at energy consumption and balance in the thrust portion of take-off and then solar energy and the ISS.

This unit, which I have always secretly feared, has quickly taken over my grade 9 science course. The students passion and inquisitiveness has inspired me to feed that passion. They will each take a part of our space curriculum that speaks to them and share what they learn with the rest of the class. I am excited to see what they create and share.  I am forever indebted to the Canadian Space Agency for making education and public engagement a priority this year. They have greatly impacted my ability to teach a topic normally so far out of my comfort zone. They’ve also given purpose and a context for me to really focus on digital citizenship with my students this semester.

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