Your students may look on space exploration as an ordinary part of life, but it wasn’t always like that. Traveling into space was a dream for centuries before anyone accomplished it, and it was an amazing accomplishment.
Look at the history of space exploration with some of these lessons:
- Space Today looks at early astronauts with a lesson involving some interesting trivia from the early days of space exploration. Use this lesson to start your classroom timeline, or to add to the one you already have.
- A more ambitious history of space exploration lesson plan uses PhotoStory 3, a free program from Microsoft for Windows users, in combination with PowerPoint. If you have another photo/video program, you can use it instead. Check out some of our favorites in Making Movies in the Classroom.
- Why We Explore Space looks at the useful things that have been discovered in the course of space exploration. This is a dramatic lesson plan involving lots of preparation and discussion, not something to pull out at the last moment, but definitely fun.
- Astroventure is a shockwave program which is a bit slow and retro by modern tech standards. It’s worth playing anyway! Students try changing characteristics of the solar system to see the results on the earth if, for example, we had a red giant for a sun. Students are guided through the adventure by NASA scientists and have plenty of opportunities to explore data and use critical thinking skills.
- NASA’s educator page has lots of cool stuff.
Check out some good books on the subject:
- Space Exploration (DK Eyewitness Books)
- Smithsonian Atlas of Space Exploration
- 50 Years in Space: What We Thought Then… What We Know Now
- Nasa: The Complete Illustrated History
- Space Exploration Fun Kit
Then turn students loose to do some research and writing with these assignments:
- Compare explorers of the Great Age of Exploration (1400s to 1500s) with the people involved in space exploration.
- Some people have always felt that space exploration is too expensive to be worth doing, while others feel that we should have continued to make space travel a higher priority. Find people who hold these views, interview them, and write about their views. After hearing both sides, make your own decision and express it in the conclusion of a paper comparing the views of the people you’ve interviewed.
- Space exploration is currently being done with machines rather than people. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Support your conclusion with facts.
- In all the exploration of space that has taken place in the past half century, we’ve never found anyone else living on other planets. Why not? Speculate on the reasons, but be sure to have some support for your claims.
- Compare space travel in films and books with space travel in real life. Find at least ten differences and similarities, and make an illustrated list.
These are great lesson plans to use as an introduction to reading and writing science fiction. Learning is always enhanced when kids can study topics across the curriculum; studying space exploration of the past helps one to imagine space exploration of the future.
You might like the Science Fiction Genre Study, too.