Return of the Rocket Man!

Back in December 2015, we sat on the edge of our seats as Tim Peake, the first official British astronaut (Government-funded) embarked on Expedition 46 to the International Space Station. Over the next few months we were treated to snippets of information and glimpses into his life on board from his first spacewalk and eating food prepared by Heston Blumenthal, to running the London Marathon in a respectable 3 hours and 35 minutes – albeit on a treadmill up in space!

Then in June, with baited breath, we watched the re-entry of the Soyuz capsule and his safe return. It was great to see that just one month later at the Farnborough Air Show, Major Tim Peake was guest of honour on Futures Day where more than 7,000 children attended the event, which aims to inspire youngsters to study STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

For the lucky audience, the inspirational astronaut held a Q&A session with the children, whose questions ranged from asking him about using social-media in space to whether he was scared when his shuttle re-entered the earth’s atmosphere.

It is no great secret that Tim wants his mission to inspire more young people to become interested in science and engineering.

"The legacy I hope is that this will inspire a new generation to look at science, to look at space, as an exciting career path, and to make choices that push them in that direction," he said.

So on the back of this renewed vigour for science, it is crucial that as teachers we seize the opportunity to raise the profile of primary science in our schools. No doubt during his mission this was the case, but let’s not lose the momentum!

Peake himself embraced the Q&A session but all too often teachers fear that awkward moment when the child, who always has their head in a book about space, asks the BIG question! You know - the one that you don’t know the answer to or can’t explain because you haven’t done a degree in astronomy! But in order to harness their innate curiosity, we need to ensure that opportunities are given in the classroom for children to ask, share and discuss those thoughts, ideas and concepts.

Grabbing moments to pose a question, allowing the children to collaborate on their thinking and feed off each other’s ideas is where the energy is. Flash up a picture of 3 unrelated objects and ask them which is the odd one out? Why? Present a scenario, such as the earth stops spinning and ask them to consider what are the positive and negative implications of this, as well as any interesting observations that come to mind.

There are no wrong answers necessarily, it’s about justifying your reasoning and giving a plausible interpretation. It’s about freeing the children up to think hypothetically and hopefully this will lead them to continue to develop natural enquiry and a love of science. And it’s OK for you as the teacher to admit you don’t know!

Tim Peake has done his bit, now it’s time for us as advocates of science to ensure that his mission is achieved. Just as in the Rio Olympics where Team GB has risen to the highest ranks above the super-states of Russia and China…let us try to emulate this success in terms of future Space exploration and discovery!

For more insight into inspirational science teaching…check out TT Education’s course: Raising attainment in Science.