Teaching about Heroes in Science and Space with BBC Video

Engaging today’s students with science and space heroes has never been more important. Women are still seriously under-represented within the industries of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), making up just 14% of the UK workforce. Inspiring younger generations about the heroes of science and space will engage students, build confidence and pave the way for a greater understanding of our universe and our place within it. We take a look at how to teach about heroes in science and space and how to utilise the excellent teaching resources available.

The Tim Peake effect

Tim Peake, the British astronaut who has just returned from a 6-month stint on the International Space Station, has been an exceptional ambassador for firing up enthusiasm in young people for science and space. Over 600,000 children took part in Rocket Science, where packs of seeds were sent to schools and pre-schools across the UK; half the seeds had been to space and the other half had not. The children were responsible for monitoring growth and differences between the seeds. On top of that, 400,000 children watched live link-ups with Tim on the Space Station where they were able to ask questions about life in space.

It’s too early to assess the direct impact that this has had on encouraging children to focus more on STEM subjects – but it’s clear that the Tim Peake effect must not be allowed to quieten down. Teachers have a golden opportunity to teach about other science heroes and to keep the current energy and momentum of the Tim Peake effect going strong.

Teaching about space and science heroes – getting started

There are excellent resources available to aid teaching about space and science heroes. Space is at its most inspiring when taught visually, so BBC Active Video for Learning’s educational videos are a hugely beneficial resource. Space Age – Nasa’s Story examines the most iconic moments in space exploration and takes a closer look at NASA’s incredible achievements so far. Across four episodes, this series of space videos captures NASA’s early beginnings, the first man in space, the ground-breaking first visit to the moon and brings home the reality and danger of space travel through following Apollo 13 and the shuttle Challenger.

The video “In Search of Science” sees Professor Brian Cox celebrating the work of his own science heroes and the developments of British Science. Professor Cox looks at how the incredible advances in science have their foundations in the discoveries of the early pioneers. This engaging video looks at the history of scientific discovery and examines where these ground-breaking early findings may take us in the future.

As well as educational videos, there are other useful teaching resources available. The European Space Education Resource Office UK (ESERO – UK) provides some excellent teaching guides covering a wide range of space related themes, including one on human space exploration which examines the history of humans in space. Teachers can search for resources by age, key stages or subject. ESERO-UK is an educational project by the European Space Agency and was established at the National STEM Learning Centre. ESERO-UK also features resources and information on Tim Peake.

Delving deeper – celebrating the unsung heroes of science and space

The names Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin will already be well known to many young people across the world. But what about the unsung science heroes whose work paved the way for future space exploration? Teaching about these space heroes will help to inspire young people and also serve as a reminder that today’s space exploration by astronauts such as Tim Peake stands on the shoulders of centuries of research and discovery. The exciting and inspiring developments in space science are only possible now because of the incredible work of the early pioneers.

One fascinating science hero worth exploring further in the classroom is Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who was born in 1868 in Massachusetts. Leavitt was born in a challenging time for female astronauts; women were not allowed to use telescopes and their role was purely to assist male scientists. However, Leavitt, in her studies of data, found a pattern that led to her calculating the period-luminosity correlation of the stars she was studying. This was a ground breaking discovery, meaning that the relationship between period-luminosity could be used as distance markers for calculating distance in space. This led, in turn, to future astronauts being able to calculate our place in the universe. Leavitt’s unsung work changed everything about space discovery; she is a true science hero.

Teaching about unsung space heroes such as Leavitt will help to delve deeper into the history of science and space exploration and will bring a fresh perspective to learning.

Leading experts in the fields of space science describe space flight as being essential not just for scientific discovery but for humanity. We have made enormous, ground-breaking strides in space exploration and science; inspiring younger generations in STEM subjects is critical to ensure that this continues. Teaching about the people who have transformed our understanding of space will reinforce the incredible work of scientists across the globe and will encourage today’s students to become tomorrow’s science heroes.               

BBC Active Video for Learning provides high quality educational videos covering a wide range of STEM subjects which will engage and excite students for your next class or lecture.