Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Venturing Boldly into the Void

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Venturing Boldly into the Void

Article excerpt

Use the anniversary of the Moon landing to fill pupils with awe

"Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed."

If you did not witness the Moon landing on 20 July 1969, it is very hard to appreciate the excitement that Neil Armstrong's words generated across the world. Many of my generation have a keen interest in space because of that day, but younger people are often ignorant of this world-changing event -and space travel in general.

The present-day International Space Station is a wonderful thing, yet it orbits at a surprisingly low altitude of 370km above the Earth's surface. In comparison, the 384,400km journey to the Moon seems out of this world.

To combat this knowledge vacuum among pupils, I try to convey the wonder of space in my science classes, making a special effort on the anniversary of the Moon landing to put students in Neil Armstrong's moon boots. That anniversary falls in just over a week's time, so the following lesson will hopefully give you some ideas to inspire the next generation of space adventurers.

The scenario of the lesson is that a mission to visit a Moon base has crash-landed short of its target. The students, as sole survivors, have to trek 100 miles across the lunar surface to the base -and no one can come to their rescue. They still have their spacesuits and plentiful oxygen, but they have to decide what other items to carry with them on their trek.

Students are given a list of what they have managed to salvage from the wreckage, but they can only take five items to aid their journey. These include a map, a compass, a two-way radio, a newspaper, a tennis racket, 30m of rope, matches, an electric heater, a gas heater, a hang-glider, an inflatable raft, distress flares, a roll of aluminium foil, biscuits, five litres of water, salt tablets and a video of Nottingham Forest FC's two European Cup triumphs.

They make their selection in groups. But before they do this, students will need to have done their homework, researching facts about the Moon and its conditions -you may be surprised by how little most pupils know about the Moon. If you are lucky enough to have a class set of laptops or tablets, the research can be done during the lesson.

To help the students choose their items, I usually supply a blank table of questions that they might want to answer, including: how long is a day on the Moon? What is the temperature on the Moon? What is the lunar surface like? Does the Moon have a magnetic field? And does the Moon have an atmosphere?

Circulate the classroom and help your pupils by making suggestions. For example, the inflatable raft could be used as a shield against the fierce heat of the Sun. But the matches would of course be useless, as would the gas heater, because the absence of atmosphere on the Moon means they would not burn. …

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