Why should we teach with space?

Space is a topic that almost universally captures children’s interest. Most kids have dressed up as an astronaut, jumped in their “spaceship” and ran around their house, garden or street “exploring” outer space. Some kids spend a large portion of the start of their lives lying in a crib staring at rockets or planets or glow-in-the-dark stars above their heads. Why do we have this intense, natural fascination with certain topics such as space and why is it so important that we cultivate this?

Firstly, it doesn’t take an expert to know that the more interested you are in a subject, the more motivated you are to learn about it. With natural motivation and interest already there, space is an ideal facilitator for the education of our younger generations. Around one third of all children experience what is known as an “intense interest” and this is often in either dinosaurs or space (or both). Some studies have concluded that children with these intense interests develop longer attention spans, better information processing skills and become more persistent. It is vital that we cultivate these interests and encourage them.

Secondly, the interdisciplinary nature of the space sector allows for almost any concept to be taught using space as a context. This is not limited to STEM subjects either. Space can be used to teach law, languages, art, social sciences, psychology, health, physical education and many more. Notable among these non-STEM activities is the #DearMoon project (a revolutionary art project which will be produced by Japanese Entrepreneur, Yusaku Maezawa) and the space mining laws passed by Luxembourg (the first space mining laws in Europe). Experts from all disciplines collaborate in space exploration. Space agencies realise the need for students from all backgrounds to develop as well rounded individuals that can contribute to the betterment of humanity. There are countless projects led by private and public companies alike which help students improve both the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in the modern workplace.

Finally, space gives us an amazing lens with which to look back at the uniqueness and fragility of our own planet. As we gaze out into the vast cosmos and try to grasp the scale of the Universe we begin to realise how important planet Earth is. Astronauts commonly refer to the Overview Effect which affects them profoundly. This is a psychological shift that sees astronauts develop an irresistible urge to protect our beautiful, delicate planet. They realise better than before how important it is that we look after our home and take care of each other. It is almost impossible to put into words for astronauts, but if you listen to Carl Sagan's "Pale blue dot" you can start to get a sense of that feeling.

Now, we can’t send every child into space (yet!) so we should use space to motivate them to be better than the generations before, to care for each other and to look after the planet that has harboured humanity since the beginning. We have a duty to our children, and our children’s children, to provide them with all the skills and knowledge they need to succeed where we have failed.

Space is no longer limited to the elite. I believe we are realising it is something we are all part of. There are citizen science projects anyone can participate in (such as Planet Hunters, AstroPlant and Galaxy Zoo), there are countless start-up companies pursuing the stars (such as Valispace, PTScientists, ispace, moon express), there is more data than ever about how our planet is changing and I believe we will see humans settle on another celestial body in the coming decades.

What are your thoughts? Why do you think space captures the imagination of children around the world? Feel free to let me know and if you enjoyed this post please share it on your favourite social media site and don't forget to subscribe!

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